Camp Bastion: US Defence
Secretary Leon Panetta flew into Afghanistan on Wednesday at a
fraught moment in the war after a shooting rampage by a US
soldier raised fears of an anti-American backlash.
In an unannounced but already scheduled visit, Panetta
landed in southern Afghanistan at the Camp Bastion military
base. The trip comes in the wake of Sunday`s shooting spree
that left 16 Afghans dead, most of them women and children.
Tensions were running high a day after suspected Taliban
insurgents opened fire on an Afghan government delegation
attending a memorial service for the civilians who were
The hail of gunfire left one member of the Afghan
security forces dead and one policeman wounded.
Panetta was due to meet President Hamid Karzai and local
leaders in the south in a bid to reassure Afghans after
Sunday`s horrific violence when a US Army sergeant allegedly
went house to house killing Afghans in the Panjwayi district
of southern Kandahar province.
The shooting marked the latest in a string of damaging
incidents that have raised questions about the NATO war
effort, including the burning of Korans at an American base
that triggered violent unrest in which around 40 people were
Panetta`s visit coincides with a growing debate in
Washington about the course of the 10-year-old war, with some
sceptics in and outside the White House arguing for an
accelerated drawdown of troops.
Under current plans, the United States aims to reduce the
force of nearly 90,000 to about 68,000 by the end of
September, with most of the remaining combat troops due to be
pulled out by the end of 2014.