REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- The deadly shooting attack of Afghan civilians by an American soldier on Sunday was strongly condemned by U.S. officials, even as the incident renewed debate about ongoing American involvement in Afghanistan.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Sunday it was time for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan. Though he stopped short of calling for an immediate withdrawal, Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday” that he did not think the mission in Afghanistan was “doable.”
“It’s very likely that we have lost — tragically lost the lives and suffered injuries to a considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we’re going to discover is not doable,” he said, adding in an interview on CBS' “Face the Nation” that the U.S. doesn't have the "willpower" or the "capacity" to "fundamentally change the region."
But some senior Republican lawmakers, while calling the shooting tragic and terrible, said the incident should not weaken America's resolve in that country.
The U.S. could “win this thing. We can get it right,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on ABC’s “This Week.” “The surge of forces has really put the Taliban on the defensive,” he said.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said: “I understand the frustration and I understand the anger and the sorrow. I also understand and we should not forget the attacks on the United States of America on 9/11 originated in Afghanistan.
“And if Afghanistan dissolved into a situation where the Taliban were able to take over or a chaotic situation,” McCain added on Fox, “it could easily return to an Al Qaeda base for attacks on the United States of America.”
Their comments came shortly after reports that a U.S. serviceman went on a house-to-house shooting spree in a village near his military base in southern Afghanistan, killing 16 people, most of them women and children, and wounding several others.
The NATO-led coalition said Sunday that the service member had been detained after the attack.
“This is a deeply regrettable incident and we extend our thoughts and concerns to the families involved,” the statement said, noting that U.S. forces in cooperation with Afghan authorities would investigate the incident.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in an interview Sunday on CNN’s "State of the Union," joined many other officials in expressing sympathy for the victims.
“Our hearts go out to these innocent people,” said Reid, (D-Nev). “Our troops are under such tremendous pressure in Afghanistan. It’s a war like no other war we’ve been involved in. But no one can condone or make any suggestion that what he did was right because it was absolutely wrong.”
Asked whether the U.S. should hasten a pullback from Afghanistan, Reid said he believes the U.S. is on the “right track to get out of Afghanistan just as soon as we can.”
“I think our timetable is pretty good,” he said. “I think we’re going to find out that hopefully we can get out of there as scheduled and things will be stabilized when we do that.”
-- Don Lee
Photo: An Afghan man sits in the back of a bus with the body of a person who was allegedly killed by a U.S. service member in Panjwai. Credit: Allauddin Khan / AP