President Hamid Karzai called for NATO troops to leave Afghan villages and confine themselves to major bases after 16 civilians were shot dead by a U.S. soldier.
In a near-simultaneous announcement, the Afghan Taliban said it was suspending nascent peace talks with the United States seen as a strong chance to end the country’s decade-long conflict, blaming “shaky, erratic and vague” U.S. statements.
Hamid Karzai, in a statement after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kabul, said as a consequence of the weekend massacre, “international security forces have to be taken out of Afghan village outposts and return to (larger) bases”.
In advance of his visit an Afghan man who apparently targeted U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in a suicide attack at Britain’s main base in Afghanistan died of his injuries.
The civilian had sustained severe burns after driving on to a runway at Camp Bastion at the same time as Leon Panetta was landing for a visit to U.S. troops and local political leaders.
The US soldier accused of carrying out the shooting was attached to a small special forces compound similar to others around the country which underpin NATO’s anti-insurgent strategy ahead of a 2014 deadline for Western combat forces to pull out.
The incident has harmed relations between Afghanistan and the United States and “all efforts have to be done to avoid such incident in the future”, Hamid Karzai said on Thursday, warning it also had hurt the trust Afghans had in foreign forces.
The Sunday killings in Kandahar province on Sunday have raised questions about Western strategy in Afghanistan and intensified calls for the withdrawal of foreign combat troops.
The Taliban decision to suspend the talks was a blow to NATO hopes of a negotiated settlement to the war, which has cost the United States $510 billion and the lives of over 1,900 soldiers.