UPDATE: The prominent Seattle defense lawyer who represented the so-called "Barefoot Bandit" said Thursday that he had been asked to defend the U.S. Army sergeant accused of shooting and killing at least 16 Afghan civilians this past weekend.
The Associated Press reports that John Henry Browne spoke with the sergeant early Thursday over the phone. The soldier, who Browne said is 38, highly decorated and from the Seattle area, is reportedly in Kuwait after having been transferred out of Afghanistan on Wednesday. Browne says he has plans to meet with the sergeant in person soon, according to the USA Today.
While Browne refused to release the soldier’s name—which the Army has also kept under wraps—he did provide a little context concerning his mental state, telling the AP that his client "wasn’t thrilled about going on another deployment. He was told he wasn’t going back, and then he was told he was going."
Browne is best known for representing Colton Harris-Moore, a teenager who stole airplanes, boats and cars over the course of two years. Browne said that he has worked on handful of military cases before, but that the sergeant will also have at least one military lawyer on his defense team.
Thursday, March 15, at 10:09 a.m.: Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked the U.S. on Thursday to pull its troops from his country's rural areas and villages and confine them to military bases.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the request came during a meeting with Leon Panetta, on the second day of the Defense secretary's tense two-day visit to Afghanistan in the wake of this past weekend's apparent killing spree conducted by a U.S. soldier. The paper explains that Karzai's demand "dramatically changes the outlook of the war" and, if accepted, would "essentially end the U.S. combat role just as the annual spring offensive begins."
The Associated Press explains that a U.S. troop pullback would put the transition of the country's security to Afghan forces a year ahead of schedule. President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron affirmed on Wednesday that they were sticking with the plan to shift NATO's security role in the country into Afghan hands in 2013.
Also on Thursday, the Taliban announced they were suspending a Qatar office intended for negotiations with the U.S., effectively ending talks on prisoner transfers, CNN reports.
The rising tensions in the region come after a weekend rampage reportedly carried out by a U.S. soldier in a rural Afghan village that killed 16 civilians, including nine children. According to CNN, protesters condemned the removal of the so far unnamed soldier from the country Thursday, demanding that he stay in Afghanistan to face a trial there.
Meanwhile, the Afghan man who crashed a stolen truck on a British military on Wednesday during Panetta's arrival at the base has died, according to the AP. He was working as an interpreter for the foreign forces in the country, and is believed to have been targeting a group of U.S. marines waiting on the tarmac for Panetta's arrival in the country.
Wednesday, March 4, 3:18 p.m.: An Afghan crashed a stolen truck on a British military base runway as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s plane was landing Wednesday for an unannounced two-day visit in Afghanistan, reports the New York Times. Panetta emerged from the plane unharmed, but the driver of the truck reportedly emerged from the wreckage ablaze.
The air field was at a Marine base in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, near Kandahar, where an unnamed U.S. army sergeant killed 16 civilians on Sunday. TheWashington Post provides a graphic of the relative location here.
No explosives were found in the truck, and Pentagon officials couldn’t immediately confirm whether the man meant to attack Panetta.
The Times reports that as Panetta began to speak at Camp Leatherneck amid the heightened tension, American troops were abruptly asked to put their weapons outside the tent where the briefing was to take place. U.S. officials have since stated that that precaution had actually been requested Tuesday, and that the brisk request so soon after Panetta’s arrival was due to a miscommunication. American troops are normally allowed to keep their weapons on them, the Times notes.
In a separate visit in to a remote base in western Helmand, Panetta re-emphasized statements by President Obama by which the U.S. would keep to its timetable of withdrawing 23,000 American troops by the end of summer and the remaining 68,000 by the end of 2014, notes the Times.
Meanwhile, a USA Today/Gallup poll taken after the Kandahar shooting rampage shows that half of Americans back a faster pullout. “More than one in four of those surveyed say events in recent months, including attacks on coalition forces in the wake of the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base, have persuaded them that the time has come for the troops to come home,” USA Today writes.
Wednesday, March 14: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is in Afghanistan Wednesday for an unannounced two-day visit, days after a U.S. soldier reportedly killed 16 civilians in a weekend rampage.
Although, as the New York Times reports, the visit was planned months in advance, the timing has heightened the tension and importance of Panetta's time in the country.
Speaking to Afghan officials, Panetta said that recent violence in the country does "not represent the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces, or U.S. and (coalition) forces—the vast majority of whom are trying to do the right thing," the Associated Press reports.
According to the Times, Panetta is expected to speak to President Hamid Karzai in person about the killings during his visit. The Defense secretary has previously denounced the incident and vowed to bring the killer to justice (albeit not in an Afghan court).
Panetta also spoke to a group of about 200 marines Wednesday, who were abruptly told to remove their weapons from the tent in which they were gathered to hear the secretary speak, according to the Times. Normally, American troops are armed in Afghanistan during a visit like Panetta's, but not Afghan troops. According to Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, the decision to remove the weapons was intended to create a consistent policy for everyone in the tent.
The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is contending with escalating anger from the country's residents. The weekend's killings follow an incident last month in which NATO soldiers burned Muslim holy books, sparking deadly protests in the country.
Tuesday, March 13, 3:11 p.m.: President Obama said Tuesday that an investigation into the weekend shooting spree that killed 16 Afghan civilians would be thorough and hold anyone involved "fully accountable," the Associated Press reports.
Speaking at the White House before an unrelated event, the president addressed the situation that has dominated international news since Sunday, when a U.S. soldier allegedly went on a rampage that left nine children among the dead. Obama called the apparent massacre "outrageous and unacceptable."
"The United States takes this as seriously as if it was our own citizens, and our children, who were murdered," the president said. "We're heartbroken over the loss of innocent life."
Pentagon officials have rebuffed calls from Afghan leaders for a public trial for the Army sergeant accused of the killings, maintaining that the U.S. government would be responsible for prosecuting the wayward soldier. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has suggested that the death penalty could be an option.
Elsewhere in Slate: Fred Kaplan takes a look at the U.S. military's current role in Afghanistan, and makes the case that an American presence can no longer serve any purpose. Read that here.
Tuesday, March 13: U.S. officials are considering an accelerated withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in the wake of an alleged weekend rampage by an American Army sergeant that killed 16 civilians, the New York Times reports.
President Obama stressed Monday that there won't be a "rush for the exits" following the incident but administration officials tell the paper that talks—which they say had begun before the weekend killings—to increase the drawdown there by at least an additional 20,000 troops by 2013 have heated up in recent days, as tensions continue to worsen since U.S. personnel mistakenly burned several Qurans last month.
According to the Times, any plans for an accelerated withdrawal would face strong opposition from military leaders, who favor keeping most of the remaining American troops in the country until 2014, when the NATO mission there is slated to end.
Meanwhile, Taliban militants attacked an Afghan government delegation on Tuesday that was visiting villages in the southern Kandahar province where the weekend killings took place, theAssociated Press reports. The delegation included two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers.
An Afghan soldier serving as a bodyguard for the delegation was killed and another soldier and a military prosecutor were wounded, according to the Kandahar police chief.
The Taliban had vowed revenge on Monday after an American soldier reportedly opened fire on villagers in southern Afghanistan, killing nine children and seven other civilians.
Monday, March 12, 4:55 p.m.: The Pentagon on Monday rejected calls by the Afghan government for the U.S. Army sergeant accused of killing 16 civilians to face a public trial in Afghanistan, the AFP reports.
A military spokesman said that the United States will be responsible for prosecuting the wayward soldier, emphasizing that investigations and prosecutions are already normally handed over to U.S. authorities pursuant to "agreements in place with the government of Afghanistan."
The news comes amid growing tension over the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, unrest that was fueled in recent weeks by other diplomatic fiascoes like last month’s Quran burnings. Many observers say that current Afghan-American relations are at their lowest since the U.S. invasion took place 10 years ago.
Politico, meanwhile, reports that Hillary Clinton echoed other U.S. officials in offering her condolences to the people of Afghanistan on Monday. "This is not who we are, and the United States is committed to seeing that those responsible are held accountable," the secretary of state said in a speech at the U.N.
Monday, March 12: As the U.S. apologizes for an American soldier's deadly attacks on two villages in Afghanistan over the weekend, the Taliban on Monday vowed revenge.
As NPR reports, both U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and President Obama have called Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai to apologize for the attacks on Sunday, which, despite earlier reports, seem to be the work of a single U.S. Army sergeant. Panetta promised to "bring those responsible to justice." Obama echoed the defense secretary's remarks, offering his condolences to the families of the dead, and to the people of Afghanistan.
The Taliban, which almost immediately condemned the attacks as "genocide," promised in a statement on their website to avenge the deaths of Afghanistan villagers at the hands of "sick-minded American savages." As the Associated Press reports, the Taliban have claimed responsibility for several attacks following the burning of several Muslim holy books by NATO soldiers last month.
On Sunday, a U.S. Army sergeant killed 16 villagers (nine of whom were children) in southern Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, village residents say that the soldier went door-to-door, then broke into three homes, killing most of those inside. He then attempted to burn the bodies before surrendering at his base more than one mile away.
Sunday, March 11: A U.S. service member left his southern Afghanistan base before dawn Sunday and seems to have indiscriminately opened fire on houses in two nearby villages, killing 16. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said nine children and three women were among the dead and called the attack in Panjwayi district an “assassination” reports the Associated Press. One soldier has been detained over the shooting, and the BBC hears word he is a staff sergeant.
Even though several reports talk of a lone U.S. soldier, Reuters hears from Afghan officials that the attack was actually carried out by a group of Western forces. Witnesses claim a group of American soldiers appeared drunk and were laughing as they went on a shooting spree, later burning the bodies.
The incident takes place following weeks of rioting sparked last month by news that Qurans were burned at a U.S. base, killing some 30 people. Days earlier, though, there were signs that relations were finally starting to improve as Washington and Kabul officials managed to make progress on a long-delayed strategic partnership deal, writes the New York Times.
Now NATO officials are bracing themselves for the fallout of what could very well be “the worst atrocity of the 10-year war to be deliberately carried out by a single member of the Western military,” as the Los Angeles Times puts it. The Taliban quickly released a statement saying that 50 civilians had been killed as part of a “genocide” that was the result of a U.S. night raid.
“This is a deeply regrettable incident and we extend our thoughts and concerns to the families involved,” the U.S. military said in a statement, according to the Washington Post.
Reuters talks to an Afghan official who says the soldier appears to have entered three homes, killing 11 people in the first one. Panjawi is around 22 miles from the provincial capital, Kandahar City.
The shooting Sunday was not the first time U.S. soldiers have been accused of killing Afghans in Kandahar province for no reason, notes the Wall Street Journal. Four U.S. Army soldiers were convicted last year of murdering Afghans and collecting body parts for trophies.
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