By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, March 13, 2012 - President Barack Obama today said the United States takes seriously the March 11 murder of Afghan civilians and promised Afghan leaders a full investigation into the incident.
"We're heartbroken over the loss of innocent life," Obama said of the incident in Kandahar province where an American soldier allegedly left his combat outpost and murdered Afghan civilians.
The Afghan government says 17 people were killed in the incident, and U.S. officials are going along with that number. "We are not in a position to dispute the numbers put out by the Afghan government," said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai and spoke about the incident, which he addressed today at a White House news briefing centered mostly about trade with China. "The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous, and it's unacceptable," the president said. "It's not who we are as a country, and it does not represent our military."
The president directed the Pentagon to spare no effort in conducting a full investigation. "I can assure the American people and the Afghan people that we will follow the facts wherever they lead us, and we will make sure that anybody who was involved is held fully accountable with the full force of the law," he said.
International Security Assistance Force commander Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen and the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker are in Washington on a prearranged trip and met with the president. "I have extraordinary confidence in them and in the many Americans who are serving in Afghanistan ... and who have made extraordinary sacrifices to be there," Obama said.
The United States will stick by its strategy in Afghanistan, the president said. "We're steadily transitioning to the Afghans, who are moving into the lead," he said. "And that's going to allow us to bring our troops home."
The United States already has withdrawn 10,000 troops from Afghanistan and plans to redeploy 23,000 more by the end of the summer. "Meanwhile, we will continue the work of devastating al-Qaida's leadership and denying them a safe haven," the president said.
Obama said he is confident the United States can meet its objectives in Afghanistan and responsibly bring the troops home, despite difficulties there.
The shooting suspect remains in U.S. custody, Kirby said. DOD, he added, is not releasing his name "unless or until charges are preferred against the individual."
The Army's Criminal Investigation Division is in charge of the case. Once they finish their investigation they will send the findings to the chain of command, who will then make judicial process decisions, Kirby said.
There have been protests in Afghanistan in response to the shooting. While militants fired on an Afghan delegation that visited the village where the shooting occurred, it otherwise has been "peaceful and stable with respect to this tragic action," Kirby said.
Kirby added that "investigators have the full support of the chain of command to talk to whoever they need to and let the investigation take them wherever they need to go."
The suspect was based at a combat outpost in Afghanistan's Panjwai district. The outpost provided village support operations, which primarily is provided by special operations forces, Kirby said.
Still, he said, the soldier in custody "is not a member of special operations forces and is a conventional soldier working in support of the units at the COP."
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