he U.S. military is facing "unprecedented strains" in Afghanistan in the wake of Sunday's massacre of 17 Afghan villagers, including 9 children, allegedly at the hands of a disturbed American soldier who was on his fourth tour of duty in a decade and had previously suffered a traumatic brain injury. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded that NATO pull all foreign troops out of outposts in remote villages, and return them to their bases. The Obama administration is promising justice, and the military might bring capital murder charges against the unnamed suspect. But even if he's found guilty, and acted alone, do his superiors share some of the blame for deploying a damaged, war-weary soldier?
Blame the generals: "If the allegations prove true," nothing can absolve the soldier" of his responsibility for this "cold blooded murder," says Jim Frederick at TIME. But military commanders have to answer for this "atrocity," too. If the soldier's superiors missed "red flags" — the traumatic brain injury that the soldier suffered in Iraq might have affected his behavior — they must be held accountable if we're to have any chance of preventing the next tragedy.
"Is the Army responsible for the Afghan massacre?
Blame the politicians: "Perhaps the Army could have done more," says Robert H. Scales in The Washington Post. But second-guessing the people on the front lines is unfair. The "real institutional culprit" is our leadership in Washington, which has cynically overused "one of our most precious and irreplaceable national assets: Our close-combat soldiers and Marines." Asking our troops to face 10 years of battlefield stress may have made this kind of tragedy inevitable.
"Afghan massacre — who to blame"
It's unfair to blame anyone: Vietnam showed us that "something like this" was bound to happen some day, says USA Today in an editorial. "People crack, and they kill" — and the danger they pose is "obvious only in hindsight." It's natural to lay blame, but it's often unfair. These things happens in war, and they happen at home. The Afghan slaughter was probably "no more preventable than last month's shooting of five Ohio high school students by a classmate."
"Afghan killings a familiar nightmare for U.S."
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