Rupert Cornwell: Poisonous atmosphere adds to growing mistrust of American troops
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Tuesday 13 March 2012
President Obama today vowed to “follow the facts wherever they lead” in the massacre of Afghan villagers allegedly carried out by a rogue American soldier, whose trial and punishment could now transform the politics of the 11-year war, both in Afghanistan and the US.
Almost every personal detail, bar his name, is known about the suspect. He is a married 38-year-old staff sergeant with two children who joined the army in 2001 and was deployed to Afghanistan last December. Previously, he had served three tours of duty in Iraq, where he reportedly suffered a serious brain injury in a 2010 vehicle accident.
The suspect is currently in detention at a military facility in Kandahar, as US investigators try to work out what led him to slip away from his combat post, slaughter 16 people, including women and children as they slept in the early hours of Sunday, and then turn himself in after his killing spree. His wife and children meanwhile have been brought for their own safety into his unit’s home base outside Tacoma in Washington state.
Earlier, as suggestions multiplied that he might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, it was not clear what charges would be brought against him and when. Only at that point will the staff sergeant’s identity be made public. According to Leon Panetta, the Defence Secretary, he could face capital charges, if deemed fit to face trial.
But neither that possibility, nor Mr Obama’s own pledge to treat the case “as seriously as if our own citizens and children had been murdered”, may be enough to satisfy the Afghan government and public. For them, the outrage is but the latest in a series of incidents to undermine trust in the US and the some 90,000 American troops still deployed in the country.
Despite US insistence that a lone individual was responsible for the rampage, some Afghans believe that at least two soldiers were involved. Demands are mounting in Kabul for an open trial of the suspect, on Afghan soil. But that almost certainly will not happen. Officials in Washington promise the most thorough and transparent investigation possible, but existing agreements stipulate he will be tried before a US military court, to which Afghans are likely to have only limited access.
Thus far at least, the massacre has not provoked violence on the scale that followed the burning of Korans and other Islamic texts in a dump pit last month, when 30 people died in protests, and six US servicemen were killed by Afghan colleagues, their supposed friends. However, the Taliban today weighed in, threatening to behead any American who fell into their hands.
The biggest repercussions however could be military and political. Speaking at the White House, Mr Obama made clear he intends to stick to existing plans to “responsibly wind down this war,” with the removal of a further 23,000 US troops from Afghanistan by the end of summer, following the 10,000 withdrawn last year. The last combat troops are due to leave by 2014, by which time Afghans will have taken charge of their own security. But the poisonous atmosphere could make it even harder to negotiate post-2014 arrangements for US troops to stay on as trainers and supervisors.
At home, Sunday’s killing spree has fuelled demands for a speedier end to an ever more unpopular war whose prime purpose, many argue, was achieved last May when Osama bin Laden was found and killed. Out on the campaign trail, hitherto hawkish Republican presidential candidates are starting to suggest that US troops should be pulled out sooner than the Obama administration currently plans.
- 2 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 3 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 4 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
Nepal earthquake: More than 1,100 killed across four countries and in Mount Everest avalanche
Nepal earthquake: The race is on to help thousands trapped under rubble around Kathmandu, while remote villages face a long wait for help
Royal baby: Live updates as superbug closes ward at St Mary's Hospital where Duchess of Cambridge is due to give birth
Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election
£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...
£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...