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US soldier kills 16 Afghan civilians

March 11, 2012

The consensus thus far seems to be that an American serviceman in Kandahar had a breakdown and killed around 16 Afghans – mainly women and children – in the small hours of this morning.   Its an easy goal for the insurgent propaganda machine; the Taliban have already posted a claim of 50 killed (and remember, it doesn’t matter what has actually happened, but what people perceive to have happened).  Stand by for more violent demonstrations – and also keep an eye on what Hamid Karzai says and does – he has already described it as “inhuman and intentional”, which doesn’t seem helpful.  From the US perspective there is no way the soldier will ever be handed over to the Afghans for trial.  But, amongst other challenges in Afghanistan, this is at a very tricky period of US-Afghan negotiations about their long-term strategic relationship (custody of prisoners, military bases, night raids etc).  Normally Karzai emotionally over-reacts and then cools down.  Although literally dozens of these kind of incidents have happened in the past – and a mental breakdown should at least be slightly understandable – tensions are high after other recent PR disasters (urinating on dead insurgents, burning the Koran, etc).  Long-term impact – probably no significant change to all the key pol/mil drivers, but reactions will be volatile and hard to predict for a few days.

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