News Column

Afghan President Hamid Karzai To Meet with Victims' Families

March 16, 2012

Afghan President Hamid Karzai planned to meet with the families of 16 victims of an alleged killing spree by a U.S. Army sergeant, officials said.

Word of Karzai's meeting with the relatives Friday followed news that he received a report from investigators he sent to the villages in Kandahar province, where the killings occurred, before he met with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, CNN reported.

The report was "clearly on his mind" during his meeting with Panetta Thursday, a senior U.S. defense official said. It was unclear whether Karzai would release the findings to the families or the public.

The killings of nine children, three women and four men Sunday added more tension to already strained U.S.-Afghan relations.

Karzai told Panetta Afghans have lost faith in the coalition forces in Afghanistan and recommended that U.S. troops withdraw from villages to major bases, the presidential palace said in a news release.

Afghans have been demanding a trial in Afghanistan for the soldier, a staff sergeant who was removed from the country by the United States to Kuwait.

A senior U.S. official said the military was preparing to transfer the sergeant to a prison in the United States,

The New York Times reported. The official said Kuwaiti leaders were upset because they learned about the soldier's transfer to their country from news accounts before the U.S. government could brief them.

An Afghan lawmaker accused the United States of showing "a fake video" that supports the U.S. military's statement that the soldier, who has not been identified, acted alone, CNN said.

Muhammad Naim Lalai said he was one of several Afghan officials who saw a surveillance tape on the soldier's base in Kandahar province.

"We were shown a video in which a soldier climbs the wall of a military base and then goes indoors and pulls his bulletproof jacket off and then puts his arms up to surrender himself," Lalai said.

The United States did not confirm it showed the video to Afghans but a U.S. official said aerial footage was taken that showed the soldier outside the base and then trying to crawl into into it, CNN reported.

The soldier is accused of leaving the remote outpost of Camp Belambay Sunday and opening fire on the victims.

The soldier, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, was on his first tour to Afghanistan but had deployed to Iraq three times. In 2010, he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a vehicle accident.

"I think it's of interest that we have a soldier who has an exemplary record, a decorated soldier who was injured in Iraq to his brain and to his body, and then despite that was sent back. I think that's an issue. I think it's a concern," said Seattle attorney John Henry Browne, who told CNN he was representing the soldier and had spoken with him by telephone.

The soldier had been drinking alcohol, a violation of military rules in combat zones, and was under stress related to his fourth combat tour and tensions with his wife about the deployments, a senior U.S. official told Times.

"When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues -- he just snapped," said the official, who was briefed on the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Browne, whose high-profile client list includes a teenage thief known as the "Barefoot Bandit," said a report of marital tension was "nonsense," the Times reported.

The soldier and his wife, the parents of two children, had "a very healthy marriage," Browne said.

Source: Copyright United Press International 2012

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