At Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged U.S. military personnel to not be deterred from their mission and continue "to make life difficult" for the Taliban and al-Qaida, says NPR's Larry Abramson, who is travelling with Panetta.
The Pentagon chief's words come, of course, in the wake of the murders Sunday of 16 Afghan civilians — allegedly by a U.S. Army staff sergeant. And they follow the burnings by U.S. forces last month of some Qurans, which set off protests and led to the murders of at least four U.S. military personnel. American officials have apologized for the burnings and say they were unintentional.
According to Larry, while there have been reports that some U.S. officials hope to speed up the planned withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan (most are scheduled to be gone by 2014), Pentagon officials traveling with Panetta say the game plan is not changing. Panetta is due to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday. "You can be certain that the Quran burning incident and the shooting on Sunday are going to come up," Larry tells our Newscast Desk.
Panetta's visit, while unannounced until he landed in the country for security purposes, had been scheduled before the murders.
Meanwhile, the BBC reports that:
"As Mr. Panetta arrived in Afghanistan, a motorcycle bomb blast in Kandahar city killed at least one Afghan intelligence officer and wounded three others. In another incident on Wednesday, a roadside bomb attack in the Marjah district of Helmand killed eight civilians travelling in a minibus, a spokesman for the provincial governor told the BBC."
Update at 10:10 a.m. ET. Related Developments:
-- CNN is reporting that military investigators are looking into whether the staff sergeant may have been intoxicated at the time of the killings.
-- An Afghan official, The Associated Press reports, says U.S. authorities have shown Afghan authorities a video. On it, the soldier is reportedly seen walking back to the base and surrendering after the attacks. "The official said late Tuesday that U.S. authorities showed their Afghan counterparts the video to prove that only one perpetrator was involved in the shootings," the AP adds.
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