The decade-long war in Afghanistan has spiraled intoa series of U.S. missteps and violent outbreaks thathave left few ardent political supporters.
After NATO detained a U.S. soldier Sunday forallegedly killing sleeping Afghan villagers,Republicans and Democrats alike pointed to thestress on troops after years of fighting andreiterated calls to leave by the end of 2014 aspromised, if not sooner.
Afghanistan, once the must-fight war for America,is becoming a public relations headache for thenation's leaders, especially for President BarackObama.
And there's recognition of that problem on bothsides.
"It's just not a good situation," said SenateMajority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "Our troops areunder such tremendous pressure in Afghanistan.It's a war like no other war we've been involvedin. ... We're moving out, as the president said. Ithink it's the right thing to do."
Many Republicans --who as a party fought against aquick exodus in Iraq and criticized Obama's 2008presidential campaign promise to end the war -- arenow reluctant to embrace a continued commitment inAfghanistan.
"There's something profoundly wrong with the waywe're approaching the whole region, and I thinkit's going to get substantially worse, notbetter," said GOP presidential hopeful NewtGingrich. "I think that we're risking the lives ofyoung men and women in a mission that may,frankly, not be doable."
American voters appear frustrated as well. Inresults from a Washington Post-ABC News pollreleased Sunday, 55 percent of respondents saidthey think most Afghans oppose what the UnitedStates is trying to do there. And 60 percent saidthe war in Afghanistan has been "not worthfighting."
The latest incident in Afghanistan was disturbing:At 3 a.m. Sunday, an American staff sergeant fromJoint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., allegedlywandered 500 yards from a special operations basein the southern Kandahar province and beganshooting villagers as they slept. As many as 16Afghans were killed, including nine children,before the shooter apparently returned to base andturned himself in.
One eyewitness described the body of a young boy,apparently wearing red pajamas,lying lifeless inthe back of a minibus. That and other searingimages, including an AP photographer'sconfirmation of burned bodies at the scene, easilyeclipsed Friday's upbeat announcement that theU.S. and Afghanistan had agreed on the transfer ofAfghan detainees to Afghan control.
Obama and top U.S. officials quickly condemned theattack and offered their condolences to familiesof the victims. Obama and Defense Secretary LeonPanetta called Afghan President Hamid Karzai, bothvowing to hold any perpetrators accountable.
Their statements stopped short of a full apologybut appeared to want to ward off any retaliatoryattacks, like those seen recently after U.S.officials acknowledged the burning of Muslim holybooks at an air base in Afghanistan. Six U.S.service members were killed in attacks immediatelyfollowing that revelation, including two Americanofficers who were assassinated while workinginside a heavily protected Afghan ministry.
"This deeply appalling incident in no wayrepresents the values of (U.S. and coalitiontroops) or the abiding respect we feel for theAfghan people," Gen. John Allen, the top U.S.commander in Afghanistan, said Sunday. "Nor doesit impugn or diminish the spirit of cooperationand partnership we have worked so hard to fosterwith the Afghan National Security Forces."
But the damage is probably inevitable. Pulling nopunches, Karzai called the shooting an"assassination" and "an intentional killing ofinnocent civilians" that could not be forgiven.
For their part, U.S. officials pointedly notedthat the suspect would be tried under U.S. law, afine point perhaps made to head off any demands byKarzai that Afghanistan be given custody of thesoldier.
The tension could be enough to raise a keyquestion among Obama's top advisers as they staredown this fall's bid for re-election: Should Obamapress NATO to speed up its scheduled transfer ofsecurity responsibility to the Afghan governmentat the end of 2014?
Panetta has already said he hopes Afghans willassume the lead combat role across the country bymid-2013, with U.S. and other NATO troopsremaining in smaller numbers to perform numeroussupport missions. U.S. and Afghan officials havesaid they want a strategic partnership agreementsigned by the time a NATO summit convenes inChicago in May.
Further complicating the matter is the limitedpatience many of Obama's top supporters have forKarzai.
"The great weakness in Afghanistan is Karzai,"said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Nobody seems totrust him or like him. And the idea of turning itover to the Afghan forces is the right way to go,but that's a major question mark: Karzai."
Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the SenateArmed Services Committee, pleaded for publicpatience on the war.
"I understand the frustration, and I understandthe anger and the sorrow," McCain said. "I alsounderstand and we should not forget that theattacks on the United States of America on 9/11originated in Afghanistan. And if Afghanistandissolves into a situation where the Taliban wereable to take over a chaotic situation, it couldeasily return to an al-Qaida base for attacks onthe United States of America."
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said a primaryproblem is leaving the country vulnerable andsignaling to Iran that the U.S. wasn't committedto the region.
"We can win this thing. We can get it right,"Graham said.
Reid spoke on CNN's "State of the Union." Grahamand Schumer spoke on ABC News "This Week." McCainspoke on "Fox News Sunday."