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Leon Panetta arrives in Afghanistan to discuss murderous rampage

March 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The American soldier accused in Sunday's pre-dawn killing spree was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday to an undisclosed location.

Many Afghans are calling for him to face justice in their country. U.S. military says there is the possibility that will happen. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is in Afghanistan, said the soldier could receive capital punishment if convicted.

In the midst of growing tensions with Afghanistan, Panetta traveled there to meet with government ministers and tribal leaders. Speaking to troops at Camp Leatherneck, he addressed the recent killing of the Afghan civilians and the accidental burning of Qurans by U.S. troops last month. He called both occurrences "deeply troubling".

"We have to learn the lessons from each incident so we do everything possible to make sure they don't happen again," Panetta said.

He told the troops the events do not define their relationship with the Afghan people and urged them not to be deterred from their mission.

"We'll be challenged by our enemy, we'll be challenged by ourselves, we'll be challenged by the hell of war itself," Panetta said.

Panetta is the first high-ranking official to visit the country since the U.S. soldier allegedly went on a murderous rampage, killing 16 Afghan men, women and children. The incident outraged Afghan officials.

President Barack Obama, who's hosting British Prime Minister David Cameron, called the recent tragedy a reminder that the work in Afghanistan remains difficult, but he said forces are making progress and will shift to a support role next year.

"We're going to complete this mission and we're going to do it responsibly," the president said. "NATO will maintain an enduring commitment so that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for al Qaeda to attack our countries."

In a bizarre incident Wednesday, an afghan driver somehow caught fire when he crashed a stolen truck as Panetta's plane was landing nearby. Pentagon officials said the pickup truck traveled at a high speed and crashed into a ditch.

There is no indication the driver knew Panetta was on the plane or if it was a failed attack. No one in Panetta's party was hurt.

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