WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama Tuesday sought to calm outrage over the shooting massacre by US soldier in Afghanistan, saying he took the tragedy as seriously as if Americans had been slaughtered.
Obama promised that the culprit who killed 16 civilians, mostly women and children in a methodical house-to-house killing spree, would face the "full force" of US law -- wherever the investigation led.
The somber US commander-in-chief said he had assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai that "the United States takes this as seriously as if it was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered."
"We're heartbroken over the loss of innocent life," Obama said. "The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous and it's unacceptable. It's not who we are as a country, and it does not represent our military."
Obama said he had directed the Pentagon to spare no effort in a full investigation into why a gun-toting US army sergeant and veteran of three tours of Iraq, apparently left his base and mounted a lone orgy of murder.
"I can assure the American people and the Afghan people that we will follow the facts wherever they lead us, and we will make sure that anybody who was involved is held fully accountable with the full force of the law," he said.
His comments, in the incongruent calm of the White House Rose Garden, came hours after Taliban insurgents threatened revenge against "sick-minded American savages... for every single martyr" of the massacre.
Obama's decision to again address the incident in a public setting, appeared to underline deep US concern about the possibility of reprisals against American forces and a further unraveling of US prospects in Afghanistan.
It also came amid growing public debate about war strategy which is now being thrust into the heat of a US election as Obama tries to run for a second term on strong national security credentials.
The president said that he met the US ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, and Afghan mission commander General John Allen on Monday to discuss his strategy for a responsible withdrawal, to crush Al-Qaeda and to provide Afghans with the means of securing their own security.
Earlier, the US embassy in Kabul urged its citizens to take extra precautions, warning against "a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days especially in eastern and southern provinces."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta meanwhile warned on Monday that the soldier suspected of the massacre could face the death penalty if convicted.
Obama noted that there were already plans to withdraw 23,000 more US troops from Afghanistan by the end of this summer, following the 10,000 surge forces drawn down last year.
But behind the scenes, there is a growing impression that Obama, and some of his Western allies, facing declining public support for the war, are keen to promote a quicker drawdown than military brass might want.
The New York Times reported the White House could reduce the US footprint in Afghanistan by an additional 20,000 troops by next year.
But White House spokesman Jay Carney countered that no options were currently being studied which included specific troop numbers.
"There are no individuals promoting specific options over others. That's just simply false," he said.
The pace of the drawdown, and plans to transfer more responsibilities to Afghan authorities next year will dominate the Nato summit in Chicago in May.
Obama, however, warned Monday against a "rush for the exits" in Afghanistan, as he balances making a responsible departure from Afghanistan after a decade-long war, with a US desire to prevent a return to the chaos exploited by groups like al Qaeda.
The president's vanquished 2008 election opponent Senator John McCain however said talk of an accelerated drawdown was putting the US mission in Afghanistan at risk.
"The president keeps talking about withdrawals and scheduling withdrawals that in the military view entails much greater risk. Of course, it's in jeopardy," McCain said.
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