The killing of 16 Afghan civilians by a US soldier was "an absolutely dreadful event", but Britain and its Nato allies must "stick to the plan" they have set out for Afghanistan, Prime Minister David Cameron said today.
A US serviceman is being detained in Kandahar following the massacre in two villages close to an American army base on Saturday. The tragic incident has prompted Taliban threats of revenge, while there have been calls from some quarters for the US to accelerate its withdrawal of troops, currently scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.
Afghanistan is set to dominate Mr Cameron's talks with US president Barack Obama during this week's trip to Washington, with the Prime Minister expected to seek assurances that there will be no change to the strategy of gradual withdrawal agreed by Nato in 2010.
Speaking in 10 Downing Street today following talks with Irish Taioseach Enda Kenny, Mr Cameron said: "This was obviously an absolutely dreadful event that has taken place, and one's heart just goes out to those families in Kandahar who have suffered these appalling losses."
But he insisted the incident should not trigger a change in strategy for the Nato-led International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf).
"We must stick to the plan and deliver the plan as we set it out," said Mr Cameron.
Mr Cameron said: "This really is an absolutely appalling thing that has taken place and, of course, it will have its impact, but we must do everything we can to make sure it doesn't in any way derail the very good work that American and British and other Isaf forces are doing in Afghanistan.
"It is worth remembering why we are in Afghanistan. We are there to train up the Afghan army and police so that that country is able to look after its own security and make sure that country isn't a haven for terrorists without having foreign troops on its soil. That is what we all dearly want.
"In terms of my talks with President Obama, we have a good plan. We have a plan which is about transitioning Afghanistan over to Afghan control. That plan applies in Helmand as much as anywhere else.
"The most important thing is that we stick to that plan, we deliver that plan and then we can bring our troops home, having done a good job in giving Afghanistan at least a chance of stability and prosperity and growth for the future.
"That's what we must do. It's very difficult. My first concern, of course, is with British troops and making sure they are properly protected and have the equipment they need.
"We should pay tribute to them. They do an amazing job in what is an obviously difficult time."