Will Kandahar Massacre Be A Policy Tipping Point?

The massacre in Kandahar province was the latest in a string of bad news out of Afghanistan, which may have shifted the dynamic between the Afghan people and the American-led army that has been occupying the country for a decade. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports on President Hamid Karzai's demand that U.S. troops leave Afghanistan's villages and withdraw to larger bases around the country.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

In Afghanistan, the massacre of 16 unarmed Afghan civilians, allegedly by a U.S. service member, is the latest in a string of events which may have shifted the dynamic between the Afghan people and the U.S.-led Army that's been occupying the country for a decade.

Last week, President Hamid Karzai demanded that U.S. troops leave Afghanistan's villages and withdraw to larger bases around the country. At first, Washington dismissed Karzai's demand as bluster. But the Afghan leader is sticking to it.

And as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Kabul, he seems to have the support of his people.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: President Karzai has said for years that he thinks foreign troops do more harm that good when they enter Afghan homes, says Janan Mosazai, Foreign Ministry spokesman.

JANAN MOSAZAI: And that's why the president is so keen on being responsible for Afghan children, Afghan men and women, and Afghan villages. And that's why we want that transfer to happen as soon as practicable.

LAWRENCE: American and even many Afghan military officials disagree, and have said in the past that their nighttime operations in villages have crippled the Taliban. But the massacre in Kandahar could be a tipping point.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

LAWRENCE: Jumping out of a minivan taxi, a young boy in West Kabul calls out the name of a village in Wardak Province. Men and women fill up the van and it drives off. Most of them are Pashtun villagers who come to Kabul daily or weekly. Wardak is only an hour's drive, but it's Taliban country, full of just the sort of villages President Karzai wants U.S. forces to vacate.

Muhammad Jamil comes to Kabul from his village to run a dry goods store.

MUHAMMAD JAMIL: (Through Translator) What they do is they do night raids. They come to our homes. They search our women. And it has really made angry a lot of people. And so, for us, we just want them to leave.

LAWRENCE: Opinions can fall along ethnic lines. Across the road, Asadulla, who is from the Hazara minority - long oppressed by the Taliban - said he doesn't think Afghan forces are ready to lead.

ASADULLA: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: As soon as the foreign forces go, there will be a civil war in Afghanistan, he says.

His opinion is widely held among non-Pashtuns, according to one Afghan political analyst. But this is not the usual Afghan divide, with educated pro-Western voices supporting the U.S., and conservative villagers calling for withdrawal. Many of Kabul's educated elites are with Karzai on this one.

Zaid Haidary, is head of the Provincial Council of Elders in Wardak, but he also holds a U.S. master's degree. He says Afghans and Americans may have to pull back a bit to preserve good relations.

ZAID HAIDARY: An Afghan knows better how to deal with Afghans. So, therefore there would be no hard feelings between the two nations. That will improve the relations between the two countries.

LAWRENCE: Haidary also thinks it might be a good time to let Afghan forces try taking the lead, while there are still so many American troops in-country to rescue them if they get in trouble.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News , Kabul.

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