Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta told U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Wednesday that recent calamities over the desecration of corpses, the accidental burning of Korans and the murder of Afghan civilians will not weaken U.S. determination to finish the mission.
“We will not allow individual incidents to undermine our resolve to that mission and to sticking to the strategy that we’ve put in place,” Mr. Panetta told Marines at Camp Leatherneck.
His visit, planned weeks ago but kept secret for security reasons until Wednesday morning, comes as U.S. military investigators continue to investigate the weekend killings of 16 Afghan civilians, most of them children by a U.S. staff sergeant.
U.S. military authorities have said they will not name the soldier, who turned himself in after the incident and is in custody, until charges are filed against him.
Afghan officials briefed on the investigation said there is surveillance video footage of the soldier surrendering. The officials said they had been shown the video to help dispel persistent rumors and Taliban claims that more than one soldier was involved in the attack in Kandahar province on Sunday.
The killings follow last month’s accidental burning of Korans by U.S. forces outside Kabul and the release of video in January showing Marines urinating on Afghan corpses.
“As tragic as these events of violence have been, they do not define the relationship between the [U.S.-led NATO] coalition and Afghan forces and the Afghan people,” Mr. Panetta said.
“What you are doing out here every day determines that relationship. Our strategy is working.”
Mr. Panetta is scheduled to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai during his visit.