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Afghan President Criticizes US Over Civilian Massacre Probe

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday accused the United States of not co-operating fully with an ongoing investigation into the massacre of 16 civilians by an American soldier earlier this week, and expressed doubts about the accounts of the events furnished by the US military.

Karzai told reporters at the presidential palace in Kabul after meeting the relatives of those killed in the shooting incident that the American officials had failed to co-operate fully with the official inquiry launched by the Afghan government into the massacre.

The Afghan President also questioned the US claim that only one rogue American soldier was involved in the incident, pointing out that the accounts of villagers targeted in the shooting indicate that multiple US soldiers took part in the massacre.

Karzai said the killing of Afghan civilians by NATO forces deployed in the country has been "going on for too long," and added: "This is by all means the end of the rope here. This form of activity, this behavior, cannot be tolerated. It's past, past, past the time."

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."

According to the US version of events, the unnamed US soldier reportedly walked out of his military base in Panjwai district around 3 am local time on March 11, 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.

Separately, the US administration confirmed Friday that President Obama had spoken with his Afghan counterpart over the phone earlier in the day to discuss Karzai's earlier demand that NATO forces be withdrawn from Afghan villages to their bases.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that both Obama and Karzai had failed to reach any conclusions regarding the Afghan president's demand during the early-morning call, but added that the two leaders agreed to continue to discuss the issue.

On Thursday, Karzai said 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."

Earlier, Karzai had told visiting US Defense Secretary Leon 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."

Obama had indicated earlier that a 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.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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