U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has arrived in Afghanistan in a surprise visit to seek to alleviate spiraling tensions between NATO forces and the local people who are outraged over a number of recent incidents, including the mass murder of sixteen civilians by an American staff sergeant over the weekend.
“We were all deeply shocked and saddened [by these killings],” Panetta said, according to the Department of Defense.
“As best as we can determine, this individual [the U.S. soldier] went out on his own in the middle of the night … and went into these homes and started shooting.”
However, the defense secretary added that “we cannot allow these events to undermine our strategy [in Afghanistan]. It's important that we push on, and that we bring this war to a responsible end and achieve the mission that all of us are embarked on.
Panetta, who has already expressed his condolences to Afghan president Hamid Karzai and vowed to punish the man responsible for the murders, will reportedly meet with Karzai and other top Afghan officials and provincial leaders during his unannounced trip.
The defense secretary also praised the work of Afghan, U.S. and other NATO soldiers, who have now been threatened with violence retaliation by the Taliban.
As tragic as these acts of violence have been, they do not define the relationship between the coalition and Afghan forces, and the Afghan people, he told troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
However the carnage continues in the country.
As the U.S. defense chief arrived in Afghanistan, a bomb blast in Kandahar (the locale of the murder of civilians) killed an Afghan intelligence official and hurt three others. BBC also noted that roadside bomb in Helmand province killed eight civilians riding in a bus. Both incidents are believed to have been carried out by the Taliban.
Separately, the U.S. soldier who is suspected of the horrific killing of Afghan civilians over the weekend, appeared on a surveillance video which showed him returning to his base, laying down his weapons and surrendering to authorities according to Associated Press. US officials showed the footage to their Afghan counterparts to prove that only one soldier was involved in the massacre.