Panetta visits Afghanistan in wake of shooting rampage

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived in southern Afghanistan in the aftermath of a shooting rampage blamed on an American soldier that has shaken the U.S.-led war effort
REPORTING FROM CAMP BASTION, AFGHANISTAN -- Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday in the aftermath of a shooting rampage blamed on an American soldier that has shaken the U.S.-led war effort.

Panetta's long-planned visit has taken on the feel of a rescue mission, aimed in part at reassuring Afghan officials and troops from the U.S. and other countries that the shootings in Kandahar province would not force changes in strategy.

"I do not believe that there is any reason to make any changes in the strategy," Panetta told reporters with him before arriving at a U.S. air base in Helmand province.

PHOTOS: Afghanistan shooting

Panetta was scheduled to meet with President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials, as well as visit troops and U.S. commanders. He is not scheduled to visit Kandahar province.

Panetta said he plans to stress that the U.S. is taking swift action to investigate and punish the shooter, allegedly a U.S. Army staff sergeant assigned to a special operations base in Panjwayi district near the border with Pakistan.

Defense officials traveling with Panetta said the Kandahar shooting, which killed 16 Afghans, nine of them children, was having less effect on Afghans than the accidental burning of Korans at a U.S.-run detention facility last month. That incident sparked anti-American riots and reprisals against U.S. troops.

"This was an isolated criminal attack ... the act of an individual," said a senior Defense official traveling with Panetta. "The other one was something that touched all Afghans and Muslims around the world."

But the full impact of the massacre remains to be seen. There are already signs that it is slowing down U.S. negotiations with Karzai on a long-term alliance.

The killings could also force the U.S. to accept new restrictions on so-called night raids, the special operations missions aimed at capturing or killing insurgents. Karzai has long protested the raids in public, and U.S. officials have been trying to negotiate an agreement with him.

"These last few weeks have been very difficult for everyone involved, and they've really tested the relationship," the official said.

The Kandahar killings could also affect debates in Washington about how quickly the United States and its allies withdraw combat troops over the next three years, another senior Defense official said.

President Obama and Panetta have yet to decide how quickly U.S. forces will exit  Afghanistan after next summer, when troops levels are due to fall to 68,000.

Top commanders favor keeping the bulk of those troops at least through late 2013, but some White House officials favor announcing deeper cuts sooner, to show U.S. voters that Obama is committed to ending the unpopular war.

Administration aides who favor a quicker drawdown may cite the Kandahar massacre as a reason to remove more forces.  

Seeking to rebut assertions that the war is going poorly, a senior Defense official said insurgent attacks were down 27% in January across Afghanistan compared with the same month last year. Insurgent attack with roadside bombs were down 30% that month, he said.

"The enemy-initiated violence continues to decrease," said the official, noting that 2011 was the first year in the decade-old conflict when such attacks had dropped.

Panetta is not planning to visit eastern Afghanistan, where the insurgency remains potent. Attacks are down there too, but commanders say at least part of the reduction is due to heavy winter snowfall that has hampered militants.

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Obama won't rule out faster U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

-- David S. Cloud

Photo: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Kyrgyzstan Defense Minister Taalaybek Omuraliyev at a meeting Tuesday in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. A base in that country is a transit point for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Credit: Igor Kovalenko / EPA

 

Picking this up now.

 

-----Original Message-----

From: Cloud, David S

Sent: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 11:52 PM

To: yyWebAlert; yyFGassign; 'laura.king@latimesmcom'; Drogin, Bob

Subject: Panetta in Afghanistan

 

 

Folks,

 

Here's a quick Panetta in Afghanistan story. We just landed at Camp Bastion in Helmand. Will update as I can. Cheers, David.

 

By David S. Cloud

 

Reporting from Camp Bastion, Afghanistan

 

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived in southern Afghanistan Wednesday in the aftermath of a shooting rampage allegedly by an American soldier that has shaken the U.S-led war effort.

 

Panetta's long-planned visit has taken on the feel of a rescue mission, aimed in part at reassuring Afghan officials and troops from the US and other countries that the shooting in Kandahar would not force changes in strategy.

 

"I do not believe that there is any reason to make any changes in the strategy," Panetta told reporters travelling him before arriving at a US air base in Helmand Province.

 

Panetta was scheduled to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials  as well as visit troops and US commanders during his stay.

 

Panetta plans to stress that the US is taking swift action to investigate and punish the shooter, allegedly a U.S Army staff sergeant assigned to a special operations base in Panjwai district near the Palistani border.

 

He is not scheduled to visit Kandahar Province, where the shootings occured.

 

 Defense officials travelling with Panetta said the Kandahar shooting, which killed 16 Afghans, including many women and children,  was having less impact on Afghans than the accidental burning of Korans at US-run detention facility last month, another incident that sparked anti-riots and reprisals against US troops.

 

"This was an isolated criminal attack...The act of an individual," said a senior Defense official travelling with Panetta. "The other one was something that touched all Afghans and Muslims around the world."

 

But the full impact of the massacre remains to be seen. There are already signs that it is slowing down US negotiiations with Karzai on an agreement for a long-term allinace.

 

The killings could also force the US to accept new restrictions on so-called "night raids," the special operations missions aimed at capturing or killing insurgents that Karzai has long protested in public.

 

US officials are negotiatiing an agreement with Karzai on night raids, but it remains unfinished.

 

"These last few weeks have been very difficult for everyone involved, and they've really tested the relationship," said the official.

 

The Kandahar killing could also affect debates in Washington about how quickly the US and its allies withdraw combat troops over the next three years, another senior Defense official said.

 

President Obama and Panetta have yet to decide how quickly US forces will come out of Afghanistan after next summer, when US force levels are due to fall to 68,000.

 

Top commanders favor keeping the bulk of those troops at least through late 2013, but some White House officials favor announcing deeper cuts sooner, to show US voters that Obama is committed to ending the unpopular war.

 

Administration aides who favor quicker drawdown may cite the Kandahar massacre as a reason to remove more US forces, but a decision on actual drawdown plan has not been decided, officials said. 

 

Seeking to rebut assertions that the war is going poorly, a senior Defense official said insurgent attacks were down 27 percent in January across Afghanistan compared to the same month last year.

 

Insurgent attack with roadside bombs were down 30 percent that month, he said.

 

"The enemy-initiated violence continues to decrease," the official, noting that 2011 was the first year in the decade-old conflict where such attack had dropped.

 

Panetta is not planning to visit eastern Afghanistan, where insurgency remains potent. Attacks are down there, too, but commanders say at least part of the reduction is due to heavy winter snowfall that has hampered insurgents.

 

-v-

 

 
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