Widespread Afghan outrage could force the US to accelerate plans to bring the Afghanistan war to a close. But that hasn't happened yet, and military officials are wary of a quick withdrawal.
Pentagon officials have been adamant that the vicious shooting spree of a US soldier who killed 16 Afghan civilians this week – mostly women and children – will not affect the US military’s way forward in Afghanistan.
“War is hell. These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place. They’ve taken place in any war,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday. “But we cannot allow these events to undermine our strategy or the mission that we’re involved in.”
But will the Pentagon have a choice? The intensity of the public reaction to the killings – either in Afghanistan or America – could determine whether the US military will be forced to make a change in strategy, says retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who was commander of US forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.
“A lot is going to depend on the Afghan perceptions of this event – and secondly, the US and international perceptions of this event,” says General Barno.
The White House is mulling the possibility of stepping up its timeline for withdrawal. The shooting Sunday “makes me more determined to make sure we’re getting our troops home,” President Obama told a CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh. “It’s time. It’s been a decade and, frankly, now that we’ve gotten [Osama] bin Laden, now that we’ve weakened Al Qaeda, we’re in a stronger position to transition than we would have been two or three years ago.”