By Jeremy Herb - 03/13/12 02:28 AM EDT
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday that the death penalty is a possibility for the Army soldier charged with killing at least 16 Afghans Sunday, The Associated Press reported.
Panetta made his first public comments on the shooting aboard an aircraft carrier, saying the shootings must not derail the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and that pressure from politicians in the United States and Afghanistan would not cause a change of course.
The shootings in Afghanistan, where a 38-year-old Army staff sergeant reportedly killed at least 16 Afghans in Kandahar, was the latest incident that has strained U.S.-Afghan relations, threatening to upend a planned transition of security control to the Afghans from NATO by the end of 2014.
President Obama said Monday that the shootings could not cause a "rush for the exits" for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.