By Jonathan Easley - 03/15/12 12:37 PM EDT
Afghan President Hamid Karzai told U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that he wants an accelerated scale-back of American troops from the country.
Karzai wants Afghan troops to be in control of security in his country by the end of 2013 — a year ahead of schedule, according to The Associated Press.
Karzai issued a statement announcing the demand shortly after a meeting in which he discussed the matter with Panetta.
Karzai's demand comes amid fury in his country over the killing of 16 civilians, allegedly by a U.S. soldier. The soldier, whom U.S. officials say has admitted involvement in the incident, has now been flown to Kuwait, further angering Afghans who have demanded that he be tried in their country.
Karzai reportedly cited this incident as a reason to speed up the transfer of power between the two militaries.
The suspect's move has sparked street protests by Afghan civilians.
According to the reports, the suspect was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday night, although U.S. officials said that a trial for the suspect in Kabul was still a possibility.
The U.S. service member is accused of going house to house in an Afghan village and opening fire on civilians, resulting in the shooting deaths of nine children, three women and four men, on Sunday.
The AP also reported this morning that some Afghan lawmakers are now saying that the country should not sign a strategic agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, including a troop drawdown, unless the suspect is tried in Afghanistan.
The U.S. presence in the region was combustible even before the American soldier’s alleged shooting spree, as last month an incident in which U.S. soldiers accidentally burned Qurans set off violent protests in the country.
On Wednesday, in a Rose Garden address with British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama acknowledged the delicate nature of the situation, but said none of the recent events would provoke a “rush for the exits” from Afghanistan, and that the U.S. withdrawal would continue to unfold as planned.
According to the present arrangement, most U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Adding to the already tense situation, Afghanistan’s Taliban leadership cut off negotiations surrounding peace talks with the U.S. on Thursday, citing “shaky, erratic and vague” American positions.
"The Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from (Thursday) onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time," the group said in a statement.
The United States had hoped to strike a peace agreement with the group to ensure the stability of the Afghan government after NATO troops exit from the over decade-long war.
Panetta met with Karzai early Thursday morning, wrapping up a trip that included a bizarre incident in which an Afghan man crashed a stolen car that then burst into flames near where the Defense secretary was scheduled to land.
The latest reports seem to indicate that the man was attempting to run the car into a group of U.S. Marines, and that Panetta was not a target. The suspect died of burn wounds overnight.
If Afghans are weary of U.S. troops in their country, U.S. voters are also weary of the war in Afghanistan. A poll released by Gallup on Thursday, and conducted after the shooting rampage, showed half of those surveyed calling for an accelerated withdrawal timetable.
—This story was updated at 9:15 a.m.