(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama said that the U.S. soldier who reportedly killed 16 Afghanistan civilians will be held fully accountable with the “full force of the law.”
“What I’ve made [known] to President Karzai when I spoke to him is that the United States takes this as seriously as if it was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered,” said Obama in a speech from the Rose Garden on Tuesday. “We’re heartbroken over the loss of innocent life. 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.”
The incident on Sunday, Mar. 11, caused an already volatile region to erupt. Nine of the 16 civilians killed in Balandi and Alkozai villages were children and three were women, according to the Afghan Presiden Karzai. Some of their bodies reportedly were burnt after they were killed.
The U.S. military has an Army staff sergeant in custody who is suspected of carrying out Sunday's pre-dawn killings but the military has not released his name.
“I’ve directed the Pentagon to make sure that we spare no effort in conducting a full investigation,” Obama said. “I can assure the American people and the Afghan people that we will follow the facts wherever they lead us, and we will make sure that anybody who was involved is held fully accountable with the full force of the law.”
Obama said he met with military commanders from Afghanistan who were now in Washington. He added the 10-plus-year war in Afghanistan is winding down. (The war began on Oct. 7, 2001.)
“[M]ake no mistake, we have a strategy that will allow us to responsibly wind down this war,” said Obama. “We’re steadily transitioning to the Afghans who are moving into the lead, and that's going to allow us to bring our troops home. Already we’re scheduled to remove 23,000 troops by the end of this summer, followed by -- following the 10,000 that we withdrew last year.”
“And meanwhile, we will continue the work of devastating al Qaeda’s leadership and denying them a safe haven,” said the president. “There’s no question that we face a difficult challenge in Afghanistan, but I am confident that we can continue the work of meeting our objectives, protecting our country and responsibly bringing this war to a close.”
On Mar. 11, President Karzai had said of the killings, “This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven.”