WASHINGTON – The news of an American soldier in Afghanistan allegedly executing 16 local villagers has caused a worldwide firestorm that could permanently change the outcome of that war for the U.S., one expert believes.
“In all the years I have worked in Afghanistan, and particularly following this closely in the last 10 years, I don’t think I have ever seen…something as damaging to U.S. interests as this,” says Jere Van Dyk, CBS News Afghanistan consultant. “This is because of the power of the media in Afghanistan, as well as throughout the Muslim world.”
The U.S. Army has not released detailed information about the Army staff sergeant they now have in custody, though it is believed he acted alone in gunning down 16 villagers. The White House has classified the incident as “tragic and shocking” as it tries to mitigate calls from Afghans to turn the soldier over to their authorities to be tried.
Republican presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, have stepped up their support for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan.
Much of the cause of the heated reaction comes from the deeply religious nature of Afghans, Van Dyk says, and the continued deadly protests weeks after U.S. soldiers publicly burned copies of the Koran.
All rural homes in Afghanistan, Van Dyk says, have two important objects: A battery-powered radio and a copy of the Koran, which he considers “the glue that held that country together when it fought the Soviet Union.” The religious zealotry and ability to communicate throughout the region are dangerous when combined with a perceived affront on their beliefs, he says.
Many Afghans view Americans as they did the Soviet invaders, and consider the spread of Western democracy synonymous with Western religion.
“Every single member of this very large extended family in these villages…knows he has to exact revenge,” Van Dyk says.
Learn more about what this means for the future of the war in Afghanistan by listening to the full audio at right.