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Karzai at ‘end of the rope’ in deaths

Says US not aiding massacre inquiry

ahmad jamshid/Associated Press

President Hamid Karzai said accounts of villagers suggested that the killings were not carried out by just one US soldier.

KABUL - President Hamid Karzai chastised the United States on Friday, saying he was at “the end of the rope’’ over what he termed the United States’ lack of cooperation in investigating the US soldier accused of going on a rampage earlier this month and killing 16 civilians in southern Afghanistan.

A senior US official and the suspect’s lawyer on Friday identified the soldier as Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales of Lake Tapps, Wash. American officials had previously refused to release his name, saying it is military policy to publicly name a suspect only after he has been charged.

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A military court found probable cause to continue holding Bales this week, although he has not officially been charged. John Henry Browne, the suspect’s Seattle lawyer, confirmed the identity of Bales, who was being flown Friday from Kuwait to the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Karzai had previously dispatched a delegation to investigate the killings in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, and he said Friday that US officials did not cooperate with the Afghan inquiry. He made the comments after meeting at the presidential palace in Kabul with relatives of those killed.

The Afghan leader also questioned whether only a single US soldier was involved in the massacre, which took place on March 11. He said the accounts of villagers - many of whom have claimed multiple soldiers took part in the shootings - did not match the US assertion that the killings were the work of a lone, rogue soldier.

The Afghan leader’s comments were likely to intensify the sense of crisis that has begun to permeate the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan in recent weeks.

The two allies look increasingly at odds over basic elements of the strategy to fight the Taliban, and widespread Afghan resentment at the presence of foreign troops appears to be rising amid a series of US missteps - including Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters and soldiers burning Korans.

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The killings in Panjwai have left both sides grasping for a way to stabilize the deteriorating relationship. President Obama and other senior US officials have repeatedly apologized, but the expressions of regret have done little to placate angry Afghans, including Karzai.

On Thursday, Karzai demanded that the United States confine its troops to major bases by next year, apparently in a bid to accelerate the end of NATO’s combat role in Afghanistan. But the move would effectively reverse two main elements of the US strategy: getting its forces out into the villages to better combat the Taliban’s influence, and having them train Afghan soldiers by living and operating alongside them throughout the country.

Then came Karzai’s comments Friday about the Panjwai killings. “This has been going on for too long,’’ he said. “This is by all means the end of the rope here.’’

“This form of activity, this behavior, cannot be tolerated,’’ Karzai was quoted as saying. “It’s past, past, past the time.’’

Karzai emphasized that he wanted a good relationship with the United States, his chief foreign backer. But he insisted that the relationship must be predicated on US respect for Afghan culture and laws.

He appeared to be reacting in part to word that Bales had been flown out of the country. Afghan officials had demanded that he be tried in Afghanistan, not in a US military court.

Karzai also seemed to be making a point about night raids by coalition forces, which US commanders say are among their most effective tool against the Taliban. Karzai has long objected to them, saying storming into a home at night violates Afghan culture. Many Afghan civilians have died in night raids as well, exacerbating the divide over the operations.

Although US officials have stressed they do not see the Panjwai killings as a night raid, the distinction is not shared by most Afghans. In fact, some villagers have said they did not resist the soldier because they thought at first a night raid was taking place.

Karzai said he received a call Friday morning from Obama, during which the two leaders discussed Karzai’s demand for a withdrawal from villages.

Karzai’s office and the White House issued statements that said the leaders agreed to further discuss Karzai’s concern about the presence of foreign troops in Afghan villages. They also discussed Karzai’s longstanding concerns about night raids and house searches and they agreed to finish negotiations on a memorandum of understanding to resolve the issues, the statements said.

The Taliban this week said they were calling off peace talks with US officials, saying they had not followed through on promises and had made new demands. Karzai said Friday that the Taliban should be talking directly with his government.

Earlier on Friday, a Turkish helicopter crashed into a house in Kabul, killing at least 12 NATO service members and two civilians, the US-led coalition and Afghan police said.

The coalition said in a statement that the cause of the crash was under investigation. It did say there was no insurgent activity in the area when the helicopter went down.

A Turkish official confirmed Friday that the dead service members were all Turkish and that the crash represented the largest loss of life for Turkey in Afghanistan.

Later, President Abdullah Gul of Turkey expressed his condolences for the deaths and signaled that Turkey would not withdraw from Afghanistan.

“The Turkish army, within the framework of its mission on behalf of humanity, has been providing serious contributions to the Afghan people together with our other institutions,’’ he said. “Turkey will continue supporting our Afghan brothers and friends.’’

The Turkish official said the service members were not involved in combat, but provided services like security, and that Turkey would investigate the cause of the crash.

Turkey has taken part in the NATO coalition since 2003. It now has 1,845 service members stationed in Afghanistan, according to figures posted on the coalition’s website. Its main presence is in and around Kabul, and Turkish forces also lead Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Wardak and Jawzjan provinces.

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