Karzai to meet victims’ families
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai is set to meet Friday with the families of 16 civilians allegedly killed by a U.S. soldier during a house-to-house rampage.
Karzai’s meeting at the presidential palace in Kabul follows news that he received a report from an investigative team prior to talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
The findings of the report were “clearly on his mind” during his Thursday meeting with Panetta, according to a senior U.S. defense official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
It was not immediately known whether Karzai planned to release the findings to the families or the public.
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The fallout from the alleged killings has further strained tense U.S.-Afghan relations. Karzai called the shootings a cruel act against the people of Afghanistan and told Panetta that Afghans have lost trust in the international force, the presidential palace said in a news release.
Karzai also recommended that American troops withdraw from Afghan villages, the release said.
“The issue of the villages noted in the press release did arise (in the meeting), but it was in the context of a shared commitment” to an agreed upon plan that outlines the time frame for handing over security duties to Afghan forces by 2014, Defense Department spokesman George Little told reporters.
The plan, known as the Lisbon Strategy, was adopted during a summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in November 2010.
Afghans have been demanding the soldier, who was flown out of Afghanistan by the U.S. military, be returned to stand trial, while an Afghan lawmaker accused the United States of showing “a fake video” to convince people that the soldier acted alone.
Muhammad Naim Lalai said he was one of several Afghan officials shown a surveillance video on the soldier’s base in Kandahar province.
“We were shown a video in which a soldier climbs the wall of a military base and then goes indoors and pulls his bulletproof jacket off and then puts his arms up to surrender himself,” Lalai said.
The United States has not confirmed it showed the video to Afghans, though a U.S. official has confirmed there is footage taken by an “aerial asset” that shows the soldier lying on the ground outside the base and then attempting to “low crawl” back into the outpost.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a joint intelligence bulletin Thursday warning that recent events in Afghanistan “could incite homegrown violent extremists in the United States.” The document obtained by CNN also says “there is currently no specific, credible threat information” that extremists might strike targets in the United States.
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The soldier, whose identity has been withheld by the military, is accused of leaving the remote outpost of Camp Belambay on foot early Sunday and heading to neighboring villages outside the base in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.
In the villages, the soldier opened fire, killing nine children, three women and four men, witnesses and Afghan authorities said. The U.S. military has not confirmed the number of casualties.
The soldier, who is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, belongs to the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, according to a congressional source who was not authorized to speak publicly.
He was on his first tour to Afghanistan but had deployed to Iraq three times. In 2010, he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a vehicle accident.
“I think it’s of interest that we have a soldier who has an exemplary record, a decorated soldier who was injured in Iraq to his brain and to his body, and then despite that, was sent back. I think that’s an issue. I think it’s a concern,” said Seattle attorney John Henry Browne. Browne said he would be representing the soldier and had spoken with him over the phone.
CNN’s Larry Shaughnessy, Chris Lawrence, Carol Cratty, Barbara Starr, Casey Wian and Ninette Sosa and journalist Ruhullah Khapalwak contributed to this report.