Afghan Anger Over Killing of 16 Villagers by US Soldier

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman this is The World. The Pentagon continues to investigate why a US Army Sergeant allegedly walked out of his base in Afghanistan and proceeded to massacre 16 villagers. Several of the dead were children. The suspect is now in US military custody. American officials say that all indications suggest he acted alone. Civilian deaths at the hands of foreign forces have long been a source of tensions in Afghanistan. Sunday's incident has sparked a new wave of anger aimed at the US.

Man: [Speaking Pashto]

Werman: This man in Kandahar province, where the killings took place, said people there want a full investigation, he also said the deaths make him want to join the Taliban to fight against the US and other foreign forces. Many Afghans want more than just an investigation into the incident, they want justice, says Afghan member of the parliament Shukria Barakzai.

Shukria Barakzai: This is the time that we need more trust-building between two nations and two governments. This is the time that we have to work hard. I think this is the legitimate right of Afghans to ask for that terrorist, we call that kind of attack as a terrorist attack, and I hope the United States' government also allowing their terrorist citizens to be prosecuted on open court inside Afghanistan.

Werman: It's early still to look for a US government statement on where the suspect might be prosecuted, but the Obama administration has rushed to make it clear that the attack will not change its strategy in Afghanistan. Here's Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby.

John Kirby: What's not gonna happen is that the mission is gonna suffer as a result of this. It's tragic, it's a very tragic incident but it would be a far greater tragedy for us to let this affect what we're doing writ large in the country.

Werman: What US forces want to do is to gradually handover security responsibilities to the Afghan military. The process demands trust, and that trust had already been frayed by some other incidents lately. There have been several shootings of US and foreign troops by Afghan soldiers and there was the burning of the Korans by the American military. Najeeb Azizi is a professor of Public Policy and Economics at Kabul University. He says many Afghans are struggling to comprehend how a lone American soldier could have massacred 16 villagers.

Najeeb Azizi: First thing is a lack of information, people really can not understand what happened, and how it happened and why it happened. They only know that people were innocently killed by someone who had lost his mind and that's it. And the second thing is that it has happened in a remote area in the south, today in Kandahar there was a protest, in Helmand there was a small protest, however it has not yet become the country-wide protest, because as we remember, just a couple of weeks back in the Koran burning issue there were very massive protest.

Werman: I want to ask you about the Koran burnings at Bagram Airfield, which happened last month, six days of violent protests and clashes ensued. Here we're talking people being killed and some of them burned versus symbolic books being burned why is this different?

Azizi: Over 99% of the Afghan population are Muslims, so the issue of Koran is a bit different from what it could be interpreted in the West, merely a book. The Muslims are devoted toward the book and anything that shows disrespect towards the book means disrespect towards the religion. The burning of the Koran hurt the feelings of the Afghan masses across the country. This is no comparison. Life of innocent Afghan citizens, of course, they are very important but the issue of the Koran was specifically related to the faith of people.

Werman: Professor Azizi do you think Afghans are becoming desensitized to these kinds of killings?

Azizi: The partnership of the international community, in particular the United States, with the Afghan people after the fall of Taliban it was not a love marriage it was a forced marriage for both parties. Afghans still do understand the value of the presence of international forces in Afghanistan. The young generation, specially the generation aged in-between 18 to 28 or something, they are the people who are maximally enjoying this situation. The freedom of speech, the freedom of what they want to read, the freedom of where they want to go, these are the things which very much attract the young generation, or the youth of this country. The students are having a better view, they do not get very emotional, of course the emotion comes when incidents like this happen, but they're able to control their emotions and be realist and get OK. We do need the international community so when people are doing good sometimes bad things also happen but we have to see, the goodness and the badness on a proper scale, that which one is more heavier. And of course what they have experienced over the last ten years they really appreciate what support the international community has provided to Afghanistan.

Werman: Najeeb Azizi is a professor of Public Policy and Economics at Kabul University.