Panetta on Afghanistan massacre: ‘War is hell;’ suspect could face death penalty

The U.S. Army staff sergeant suspected of perpetrating the worst war crime in the ten year history of the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan could face the death penalty, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday.

Panetta was speaking to reporters traveling with him en route to Kyrgyzstan, CNN reported.

On Monday, ahead of the trip, Panetta said the U.S. and its NATO allies are being tested by a string of distressing incidents in Afghanistan "almost every other day," but it's important to stick to the strategy the alliance has laid out.

"War is hell," Panetta said, according to CNN. "These kind of events and incidents are going to take place. They've taken place in any war. They're terrible events. This is not the first of those events, and they probably won't be the last."There are currently some 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Jon Allen, the top commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, said Monday, the Associated Press reported. Some 23,000 are due to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September of this year, with remaining international forces leaving Afghanistan at a steady pace by the end of 2014.

Panetta said Tuesday he is waiting for Allen to provide details on his plans to withdraw 23,000 U.S. troops over the next six months, the AP report said.

Both President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron took to print to address the tragedy. "As recent events underscore, this remains a difficult mission," Obama and Cameron wrote in a joint Washington Post op-ed Tuesday, ahead of Cameron's arrival in the United States for his three-day trip. "We honor the profound sacrifices of our forces, and in their name we'll carry on the mission."

The still unidentified U.S. army staff sergeant suspected of massacring 16 men, women and children in Kandahar Province Sunday is reported to have suffered a traumatic brain injury during his third tour of Iraq and to have been having marital problems. He reportedly turned himself in after walking from house to house killing his victims. He has not yet been charged.

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