WASHINGTON — Despite growing tensions in Afghanistan, including a U.S. soldier allegedly shooting 16 civilians and troops accidentally burning copies of the Koran, President Obama will not accelerate removal of military forces in the region, the White House said Tuesday.
“This president is committed to ending the war in Afghanistan responsibly,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
The administration will remove the 33,000 “surge” troops by mid-September, but beyond that no specific drawdown numbers or timetables have been discussed, Carney said.
More than a year ago, the U.S. and NATO agreed to remove coalition troops from the region by the end of 2014, but Carney said recent reports to speed up the process are completely “false.”
A U.S. soldier allegedly shot and killed 16 Afghan villagers Sunday, but Carney did not offer any more information about the suspect’s identity. He said only that the military is conducting an “ongoing investigation.”
At a White House news conference earlier Tuesday, President Obama said he was “heartbroken” to hear the news of the Afghan deaths.
“The United States takes this as seriously as if it was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered,” Obama said. “The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous and it’s unacceptable. It’s not who we are as a country and it does not represent our military.”
Even with this tragic incident, Carney said the U.S. will still focus on its “number one priority” in Afghanistan, which is to remove al-Qaeda and make Afghanistan secure.
When asked if there has been internal discussion about specific troop reduction, Carney said he does not know everything talked about around the “water cooler.” But he said nothing “official” has been brought up.
Carney said the U.S. is scheduled to meet with NATO again in the near future and the process to bring troops home will be discussed. But the spokesman said, “There is not now and there will not be an announcement of a number or a troop withdrawal schedule.”
Widespread protests have started in Afghanistan, and the Taliban have promised to “avenge” the shooting spree.