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Tragedy makes US question its role

The decade-long war in Afghanistan has spiralled into a series of US mistakes and violent outbreaks that have left few ardent political supporters.

After the latest tragedy of a US soldier allegedly killing sleeping Afghan villagers, Republicans and Democrats alike pointed to the stress on troops after years of fighting and repeated calls to leave by the end of 2014 as promised, if not sooner.

Afghanistan, once the must-fight war for America, is becoming a public relations headache for the nation's leaders, especially for Barack Obama. And there is recognition of that problem on both sides.

"It's just not a good situation," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "Our troops are under such tremendous pressure in Afghanistan. It's a war like no other war we've been involved in. ... We're moving out, as the president said. I think it's the right thing to do."

Many Republicans - who as a party fought against a quick exodus in Iraq and criticised Mr Obama's 2008 presidential campaign promise to end the war - are now reluctant to embrace a continued commitment in Afghanistan.

"There's something profoundly wrong with the way we're approaching the whole region, and I think it's going to get substantially worse, not better," said Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. "I think that we're risking the lives of young men and women in a mission that may, frankly, not be doable."

American voters appear frustrated as well. In results from a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Sunday, 55% said they think most Afghans oppose what the United States is trying to do there. And 60% said the war in Afghanistan has been "not worth fighting."

The collateral damage is from the latest incident is probably inevitable. Pulling no punches, Afghan president Hamid Karzai called the shooting an "assassination" and "an intentional killing of innocent civilians" that could not be forgiven.

For their part, US officials pointedly noted that the suspect would be tried under US law, a fine point perhaps made to head off any demands by Mr Karzai that Afghanistan be given custody of the soldier.

The tension could be enough to raise a key question among Mr Obama's top advisers as they stare down this year's bid for re-election: Should he press Nato to speed up its scheduled transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government at the end of 2014? Further complicating the matter is the limited patience many of Mr Obama's top supporters have for Mr Karzai. "The great weakness in Afghanistan is Karzai," said Senator Chuck Schumer. "Nobody seems to trust him or like him. And the idea of turning it over to the Afghan forces is the right way to go, but that's a major question mark: Karzai."

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