President Obama said Monday that the shooting of 16 Afghan villagers, apparently by a U.S. soldier, underscores the need to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 but cautioned not to "rush for the exits."
Speaking to ABC's Orlando affiliate WFTV, the president said the "tragic" incident signals "the importance of us transitioning in accordance with my plan so that Afghans are taking more of the lead for their own security and we can start getting our troops home."
In a separate interview with Los Angeles affiliate KABC, the president stressed the need to withdraw "responsibly."
"In terms of our broader strategy, it is still important for us to make sure that as we transition to an Afghan lead we don't rush for the exits in a way that could end up leading to more chaos and more disaster, not just for Afghanistan and the Afghan people, but also for the entire region and for our own security and safety," he said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that the shooting will not impact the timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops because the objectives in Afghanistan have not changed.
"I do not believe that this incident will change the timetable of a strategy that was designed and is being implemented in a way… to allow for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, to allow for the transfer of lead security authority over to the Afghans," he said.
The U.S. and its NATO allies intend to turn over security control to the Afghans by the end of 2014. The U.S. is expected to reduce its force to about 68,000 by the end of September, down from the roughly 91,000 now in Afghanistan.
Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the weekend to offer his condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives.
The president told Karzai that "we treat the death of Afghan civilians like this the same way we treat a death, a series of deaths here in the United States and we will being the full weight of the law to bear," he told KABC.
While the investigation is ongoing, the president reiterated to WFTV that "in no way is this representative of the enormous sacrifices that our men and women have made in Afghanistan."
Asked about the fear of retaliation, the president said "this has been incredibly dangerous from the start and it's not going to get any easier over the next few months."