Posted at 02:01 PM ET, 03/12/2012

Rick Santorum says U.S. owes apology in Afghanistan killings

BILOXI, Miss. — Rick Santorum, who criticized President Obama for apologizing to the Afghan government over the burning of Korans, suggested that an apology could be in order over the killing of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly at the hands of a U.S. soldier.

“We have to determine what’s happened. Obviously this is a horrible situation where if it turns out to be the case that this person did a horrible wrong and it was a deliberate act, a deliberate act by an American soldier, and that is something we should clearly say was something that we should apologize for, that it’s not a mistake, it wasn’t something that was inadvertent,” he said. “This was something that was deliberately done by an American soldier to innocent civilians. It’s something that the proper authorities should apologize for, for not doing their job in making sure that something like this wouldn’t happen. Something like this should not happen in our military, period.”

The slayings of 16 Afghan civilians on the heels of a wave of violence that broke out after the Koran burnings has brought the Afghanistan conflict to the forefront, even as Americans continue to sour on the effort. On the campaign trail, the conflict has become a flashpoint, with Ron Paul suggesting a complete pullout, an approach that Newt Gingrich now seems to favor. He said that the mission in Afghanistan is “not doable.”

Santorum, campaigning at a dinner in advance of Tuesday’s primary, pointed to the timetable for troop withdrawal as problematic.

“I think the current situation, with the president putting a timeline in place, has made a very winnable operation very, very difficult. It continues to unravel because the president has given something to the enemy that we should have been able to deny them, which is hope,” Santorum said. “You either commit to winning it, you demoralize and defeat the enemy. Or you do what this president has done, which is put political timelines in place.”

Under a NATO agreement, Afghan troops are set to take over combat operations by the end of 2014, with U.S. soldiers set to pull back by mid-2013.

Santorum said that Obama is trying to “pacify ... his anti-war base that wants us out,” and hammered the president for not having a clear mission for victory.

Yet a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that there is frustration across party lines with the war efforts in Afghanistan — 60 percent of respondents said the war in Afghanistan has been “not worth fighting.”

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