BASTION AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Afghanistan to meet with troops, commanders and Afghan government officials just days after a U.S. soldier allegedly went on a deadly shooting spree.
The visit was planned months ago, long before the weekend slaughter that claimed the lives of 16 villagers, including women and children. But the trip propels Panetta into the center of escalating anti-American anger and sets the stage for some difficult discussions with Afghan leaders.
Panetta and other U.S. officials say the shooting spree should not derail the U.S. and NATO strategy of a gradual withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014.
But it has further soured relations with war-weary Afghans, jeopardizing the U.S. strategy of working closely with Afghan forces so they can take over their country’s security.