White House: No change planned on policy in Afghanistan after shooting

The White House does not plan to change its Afghanistan strategy or objectives after a U.S. soldier killed 16 civilians Sunday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.

Carney said the Obama administration is not changing the U.S. timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying that NATO forces continue to meet their goals as they draw down troops, even as Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the incident could not be forgiven.

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“The focus of our overall strategy is not in reaction to a single event,” Carney said at Monday’s White House briefing. “We believe our presence there is having the desired effect in the implementation and achievement of our objectives. There are obviously difficult challenges we face in Afghanistan, and incidents like this do not make it easier, no question.”

Carney acknowledged that this was a “challenging time” in Afghanistan, as the U.S. soldier’s killings followed Quran burnings last month that sparked protests and left more than 30 Afghans dead.

Carney said the Afghanistan mission has “had some successes,” as U.S. forces focus on their goals of defeating the Taliban and handing over control of security to Afghan forces.

The timeline for a NATO hand-off to the Afghans is currently slated to occur by the end of 2014, but NATO leaders will be meeting in May, where the timeline could be revisited. Some leaders, such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have called for a speedier withdrawal.

The United States plans to withdraw 23,000 surge troops from Afghanistan in 2012, a move that has been criticized by some Republicans.

Carney said that U.S.-Afghan negotiations for a strategic partnership agreement, which would be put in place for after NATO hands off control, continued after the Quran burnings, and that negotiations would continue after the latest incident.

The two countries reached an agreement for handing off control of a prison on Friday, one issue that had stalled the partnership agreement.

Carney declined to answer a questions about NATO forces conducting night raids in Afghanistan, which is now the biggest unresolved issue for Karzai.

“We will continue to have very direct and important negotiations with the Afghan government as we pursue a strategy designed to bring our troops home,” Carney said.