“If the culprits are not punished, then people will be forced to take part in an uprising,” lawmaker Nazifa Zaki said.
The slayings were the latest in a cascade of missteps and blunders that have shaken Afghans’ confidence in the United States. And as ghastly details and images of the bodies were broadcast on Afghan television, even some Afghans with close ties to the United States said they feared that Sunday’s killings in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province could mark an irreversible turning point.
“I am concerned like never before,” said Waheed Omer, the Afghan president’s former spokesman, who spent years arguing that the relationship between Kabul and its Western patrons was thorny but solid and essential. “It seems we only have bad choices to make. The lines between friends and enemies are blurred like never before.”
“Afghan blood cannot be spilled in vain,” said Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament who heads the defense committee and has had strong relationships with Western officials. Barakzai said the suspect should be tried in an Afghan court or by an international tribunal, rather than in a U.S. military court.
“We really need a proper, very official court for that guy,” she said. “We really, really need it.”
The Taliban vowed to avenge the killings, which fit into its narrative depicting foreign troops as callous killers waging a war on Islam. In its statement, the militant group anticipated that the United States would seek to portray the killings as the acts of a deranged soldier.
“If the perpetrators of this massacre were in fact mentally ill, then this testifies to yet another moral transgression by the American military because they are arming lunatics in Afghanistan who turn their weapons against defenseless Afghans,” the Taliban statement said.
To deflate anger over the killings, U.S. officials will need to act swiftly and sternly, said Davood Moradian, an assistant professor of political science at the American University of Afghanistan.
“There is a view here in Afghanistan that the U.S. treats its soldiers differently, that there is a sense of impunity,” he said. “The U.S. will need to show the Afghan people that it truly is a law-abiding nation.”
Much will also depend on how successful the Taliban is in portraying the killings as a symptom of a doomed mission, rather than an aberration. The timing could hardly be more worrisome for the U.S. military, which has lost hundreds of lives trying to restore Afghan control in the south and is now starting to thin out.