The White House says they are not changing their strategy in Afghanistan despite the deaths of 16 Afghan civilians reportedly gunned down by an American soldier Sunday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said a variety of factors will be considered when determining the pace of withdrawal, still on schedule to be completed in late 2014, but would not comment on whether the civilian massacre would be one of those factors.
A 38-year-old soldier allegedly slipped off his base in the middle of the night and systematically went house-to-house in two nearby villages, shooting sleeping civilians in cold blood. Nine children are among those killed.
Villagers said after the soldier killed his victims, he wrapped them up in blankets and lit them on fire.
The soldier, a member of the Army's Stryker Brigade, was met by a U.S. patrol upon returning to the base and taken into custody. Afghan troops had spotted the soldier leaving the base and alerted U.S. troops, who dispatched the patrol after conducting a headcount and confirming the soldier was missing.
The Taliban issued a statement after the massacre, calling for revenge against "sick-minded American savages."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded an explanation from military as to how the killings could have happened. The Afghan government is calling for a public trial.
Though his name has not been released, the military says the suspect is from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. He is an experienced soldier who has been deployed multiple times to Iraq, though this was only his first tour in Afghanistan.
Investigators are now looking into his mental stability and medical history, both of which are typically reviewed before a soldier deploys. A motive is unknown at this time.
U.S. officials, including President Obama, have expressed horror at the killings and have promised justice. Obama emphasized the soldier's actions did not represent the "exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan."
The massacre comes at a particularly perilous time in U.S.-Afghan relations, on the heels of deadly protests after several Qurans were burned as trash by American troops, and only two months after a Youtube video revealed Marines urinating on bodies of dead Afghans. Attempts at damage control are expected to do little good, and the U.S. is readying itself for another round of protests.
Ahead of the statement by the White House, the military said what it will not do in the wake of the killings is retreat.
"What is not going to happen is that the mission is going to suffer as a result of this. It's tragic, a very tragic incident, but it would be a far greater tragedy to let this affect what we are doing at large in the country," Captain John Kirby with the Department of Defense said.
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