March 12th, 2012
11:52 AM ET
(CNN) - Even as U.S. officials work overtime to mitigate Afghan outrage caused by the reported killing of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier over the weekend, administration officials assert the massacre will not derail discussions on the role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when foreign combat troops are scheduled to withdraw.
“This was a horrific and shocking incident,” a senior administration official tells CNN. “But it does not change the strategic imperative for us to continue implementing our strategy - defeating al Qaeda and strengthening the Afghan state so that groups like al Qaeda can never find a home there again.”
Citing a recent agreement by U.S. and Afghan officials on a U.S. run detention center, the official said the two countries will continue to work together even during this tense time. The ‘memorandum of understanding’ (or MOU) signed Friday details how the U.S. will hand over control to Afghan authorities of a detention center housing 3,000 people and was agreed to despite the outrage and anti-U.S. violence stemming from the apparently inadvertent burning of Korans by U.S. troops last month. The negotiation took more than a year to complete and was a key sticking point in negotiations on the role of the United States in Afghanistan.
In the wake of the reported killings, the Obama administration is watching developments in Afghanistan closely in anticipation of anti-U.S. violence.
U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker and U.S. military commanders, in addition to other U.S. diplomatic and military officials, are in touch with Afghan leaders, including at the local level. They are stressing how seriously the U.S. government is treating the killings, that the soldier reportedly responsible was a lone actor and that he will be held accountable for his actions.