South Asia Features
Afghan relationship with the US has hit rock bottom
By Subel Bhandari and Anne Walters Mar 13, 2012, 12:34 GMT
Kabul/Washington - The murder of 16 Afghan civilians by a US soldier on a shooting rampage may have irreparably damaged the already fraught relationship between Afghanistan and its major ally and donor, the United States, analysts and officials said on Monday.
The incident took place on Sunday morning in the volatile Kandahar province. Most of the victims were women and children.
The killing is, however, only the most recent in a series of mistakes committed by the US forces who are fighting a decade-old insurgency in Afghanistan.
Deep public outrage was voiced once again on Monday as Afghan lawmakers issued a statement saying the tolerance and patience 'against the imprudence of foreign troops has exhausted'.
Last month, the burning of copies of the Koran by US soldiers at an army base prompted violent protests that left more than three dozen people dead.
Before the Koran incident, an undated video surfaced in January that showed US soldiers urinating on dead militants.
Last year, photographs of US soldiers calling themselves the 'Kill Team' and posing with the corpses of Afghan civilians as 'war trophies' surfaced.
Political analyst Joshua Foust said the US-Afghan relationship could not have gotten any more strained.
'I think the relationship already had hit rock bottom. The killings just confirm that there's almost nowhere further down the relationship can go,' he said.
'The last three months have been punctuated by repeated incidents that offend and shock them - but because the relationship is already so bad I don't see how it can get worse,' said Foust, who is a fellow at the American Security Project. 'If anything, it might cause renewed calls for accelerating the withdrawal and transition.'
Waheed Omer, political analyst and former spokesman for the Afghan president, said the lines between friends and enemies have never been blurred like this before.
'Taliban and al-Qaeda do kill most of the Afghan civilians but the question is who you seek protection from if the gun that is supposed to protect you also turns against you,' Omer said. 'For the moment, everything that is happening is in the strategic interest of the Taliban and al Qaeda and their masters.'
Afghan and western military officials also say they are concerned with the growing number of these 'missteps, offences' and the 'mistrust, anti-US sentiments'.
Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the NATO-led military alliance, said the 'incidents and in particular the short distance between the incidents that we see in the recent weeks' were 'a burden and are of concern.'
An Afghan government official said the trend was more than worrying.
'They keep making missteps and committing blunders. Sometimes, it's their stupidity, other times, it's craziness,' he said.
'It poses a serious risk to development work, training and joint military operations, transition, strategic partnership agreement, and everything else,' the official said on condition of anonymity.
The incident threatens negotiations on a US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement that will decide military involvement and civilian aid after the planned withdrawal of troops in 2014.
'You'd have to be under a rock not to think this is the worst thing that could have happened,' an unnamed official told the Washington Post.
The incident comes just days after agreement was reached on the handover of US-controlled prison facilities that had been a major point of contention in the agreement.
Still, an agreement remains to be reached on whether forces can continue conducting night raids.
The shooting has added pressure on the Obama administration to change course and withdraw troops earlier than planned.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Monday showed 54 per cent of respondents think the United States should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, and for the first time even members of the Republican Party, who have long supported the effort, are split on continued military involvement.
'I think it's going to get substantially worse, not better,' Newt Gingrich, one of the Republican presidential hopefuls said in a television interview. 'And I think that we are risking of young men and women in a mission that may frankly not be doable.'
In Afghanistan, the mood was aggressive on Monday.
'For the US government, this is not even a crime as we have seen in the past,' said Waheed Muzhda, political analyst and a former Taliban government employee. 'Afghan civilians don't matter.'
However, Afghans now 'believe that this is not a war on terror,' he said. 'They believe this is a crusade against them for being Muslims.'
Assadullah Khalid, an Afghan student said people were tired of mistakes made by the United States and its allies.
'It is ridiculous that they get to keep on doing this and still boss around on their terms,' he said.
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