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Karzai Demands Withdrawal Of NATO Forces From Afghan Villages

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday demanded the immediate withdrawal of NATO and US forces from villages in the war-torn country, following the death of 16 Afghan villagers in a shooting rampage by an American soldier in southern Kandahar province earlier this week.

A statement issued by Karzai's office on Thursday quoted him as saying that "international security forces have to be taken out of Afghan village outposts and return to (larger) bases" in wake of the deadly shooting rampage. He added that "all efforts have to be done to avoid such incident in the future."

The United States, however, downplayed Karzai's remarks, with Pentagon spokesman George Little saying: "We believe that this statement reflects President Karzai's strong interest in moving as quickly as possible to a fully independent and sovereign Afghanistan."

The American soldier involved in the shooting incident has since been moved to Kuwait despite demands that he be tried publicly in Afghanistan. Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said the decision to move the suspect, who is yet to be named, from Afghanistan was based on "legal recommendation by advisers."

The unnamed US soldier reportedly walked out of his military base in Panjwai district around 3 am local time on Sunday, and gunned down civilians in four houses in two neighboring villages in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. The rogue soldier, who is said to have been suffering from a nervous breakdown, then surrendered to US military authorities at the base.

US President Barack Obama had apologized over the incident on Sunday itself. Nevertheless, the killing had triggered an outrage across Afghanistan, with thousands taking to the streets demanding justice. The Taliban has also vowed to avenge the deaths.

The Afghan president's demand came as a surprise as it followed the departure of US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from Afghanistan earlier in the day. He was on a surprise two-day visit to the country. Panetta had held talks with several senior Afghan officials, including Karzai.

A statement released by Karzai's office quoted the Afghan President as telling Panetta during their meeting that "both sides (the Afghan government and the U.S.) should work together for a security handover from international forces to Afghan troops to take place by 2013 instead of 2014."

A day earlier, US President Barack Obama said the summit of NATO leaders in May to be held in Chicago will "determine the next phase of transition," including NATO forces shifting to a support role next year in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility for the security of their country in 2014.

Separately, the Taliban announced Thursday that it has suspended talks with the United States and delayed earlier plans to open an office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar for facilitating negotiations with the United States and the rest of the international community.

Without linking the move to Sunday's shooting spree by the American soldier, the insurgent group said its decision was prompted by frustration over the United States changing terms of negotiations reportedly centered on exchanging a captured American soldier for its fighters being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

Currently, Western countries led by the US and Germany are trying to wriggle out of the costly war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. They had earlier welcomed the militant group's willingness to enter into talks after a decade of insurgency as a significant step toward a peaceful end to the Afghan conflict.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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