Feature

A massacre in Afghanistan

A rogue American soldier left his base in Kandahar and shot dead 16 sleeping civilians.

The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan was left in jeopardy this week after a rogue American soldier left his base in the southern province of Kandahar and shot dead 16 sleeping civilians, including nine children. Villagers described a terrifying string of attacks in which the staff sergeant went door to door, gunning down entire families. The 38-year-old soldier, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq and is going through a divorce, surrendered and was whisked out of the country, despite calls by Afghans to try him in their courts. Afghan President Hamid Karzai described the massacre as “inhuman” and “unforgivable.” President Obama apologized, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta flew to Afghanistan to meet with Karzai. Panetta said the killings would not accelerate plans to withdraw most U.S. forces by 2014.

“The game is over in Afghanistan,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate​.com. U.S. counterinsurgency strategy is to protect and provide basic services to Afghans, supplanting their ties to the Taliban. That won’t work if ordinary Afghans fear that an American soldier in their midst might “murder their family in the night.” We should withdraw all our troops now, “because whatever gains the war might once have offered are now nowhere in sight.”

The killings were horrific, but are no reason “to rush for the exits,” said USA Today in an editorial. This rampage wasn’t met with the widespread demonstrations that followed the recent Koran burnings by U.S. troops, which were viewed as an affront to all Afghans.  After two decades of war, unfortunately, Afghans “are all too familiar with indiscriminate killing.”

Clearly, this soldier cracked, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post, giving us grisly proof of how “war can degrade men and nations.’’ But the U.S. can’t respond by cracking, too. The best option is to stick with Obama’s strategy of building a good enough Afghan army and negotiating a power-sharing agreement with the Taliban. Speeding up the pullout would only result in yet “more chaos and dead bodies.’’

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