Defense Secretary Leon Panetta landed in Afghanistan overnight for a long-planned visit that suddenly has new urgency.
Panetta is the first top U.S. official to visit Afghanistan since this weekend's murder of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by a U.S. soldier who turned himself in, has caused serious doubts in Washington about the war effort.
Panetta is not scheduled to visit the district of the shootings but will tour the country speaking to U.S. troops and Afghan officials. At one early stop, a group of Marines was ordered to leave their weapons outside of the tent in which Panetta was to address them, a highly unusual security measure.
Panetta said the recent tragedies would not force the U.S. to alter its strategy in Afghanistan and that the relationship between U.S. and Afghan officials is solid, The Washington Post reported.
“I understand that questions are going to be raised as a result of the events of the last few weeks,” Panetta said. “[But] it is very important for policy makers to keep their eye on the target.”
In addition, Taliban attacks against U.S. and Afghan forces dropped by 24 percent in the last 12 weeks compared to a year earlier, the Post reported.