Afghan deaths could delay strategic pact with US

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan , March 12 — The killing of 16 villagers by an American soldier in Afghanistan’s south could hurt Washington’s efforts to reach a strategic pact with Kabul to allow a long-term US presence in the country, a government official told Reuters today.

US soldiers keep watch at the entrance of a US base in Panjwai district in Kandahar province after the shooting. — Reuters picUS soldiers keep watch at the entrance of a US base in Panjwai district in Kandahar province after the shooting. — Reuters picYesterday’s attack on the civilians, the latest American public relations disaster in Afghanistan, could be a turning point for the United States, which wants to maintain advisers there as it tries to wind down the increasingly unpopular war.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement being negotiated is a key part of that strategy.

“This could delay the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement,” said the Afghan government official.

Simmering anti-American anger has boiled over since copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, were inadvertently burnt at a NATO base last month, with many Afghans insisting it is time for the Americans and their NATO allies to leave.

Those calls are likely to grow after the shooting in villages in Kandahar province, the heartland of the Taliban.

The civilian deaths, mostly children and women, may also force Afghan President Hamid Karzai to harden his stand in the partnership talks to appease a public already critical of his government’s performance.

The partnership agreement, which Washington and Kabul have been discussing for more than a year, will be the framework for US involvement in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014.

The Kandahar violence came just days after the United States and Afghanistan signed a deal on the gradual transfer of a major US-run detention centre to Afghan authorities, overcoming one of the main sticking points in the partnership negotiations.

Afghanistan wants a timeline to take over detention centres and for the United States and NATO to agree to end night raids on Afghan homes as preconditions for signing the pact.

Civilian deaths are one of the main sources of tension between Kabul and Washington, with the war in its 11th year.

US officials warned today of possible reprisal attacks after the villagers were killed in a likely “rogue” shooting by a US soldier that weakens the West’s tenuous grip on the war. — Reuters


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