WASHINGTON //Americans are increasingly questioning the rationale for the war in Afghanistan after the killings of 16 Afghan villagers by a US soldier, even as the US administration signalled it was committed to staying the course until 2014.
Barack Obama, the US president, said on Monday that while the mass killings in Kandahar were "absolutely heartbreaking and tragic" they would not hasten a US exit.
"It's important for us to make sure that we get out in a responsible way," Mr Obama told KDKA, a local Pittsburgh TV station, cautioning against a "rush for the exits".
Hillary Clinton, Mr Obama's secretary of state, echoed those sentiments at a news conference at the United Nations in New York.
"I hope that everyone understands in Afghanistan and around the world that the United States is committed to seeing Afghanistan continue its move toward a stable, secure, prosperous, democratic state."
But the war is already deeply unpopular in America, and the US administration may now have a political battle on its hand over its handling of what Mr Obama once called "the good war".
An ABC/Washington Post poll released on Monday, but conducted before the Sunday killings, found that 60 per cent of Americans did not think the war has been worth fighting, while 54 per cent said the US should withdraw its troops without first training Afghan forces to be self-sufficient.
The US and it allies are scheduled to withdraw the last of their troops at the end of 2014.
To some, the withdrawal cannot come soon enough. Alan Jones, a fitness instructor from north-east Washington DC, described the Sunday killings as "disturbing" and said the US should have withdrawn all troops after Osama bin Laden was killed in May last year.
"If you ask me, we shouldn't have been there in the first place," said Mr Jones, 32. "At the very least we should have left when we got bin Laden."
Waiting outside the White House for a class of students, tour guide Brian Syfert agreed. Most Americans, he said, including him, struggled to understand what good staying any longer in Afghanistan would do America. And the more incidents like Sunday's killings or the accidental Quran burnings by US soldiers last month, the clearer it became, the 28-year-old said, that it was "time for US troops to move on".
Mike and Kathy Hester disagreed, however. Retirees on holiday from Texas, the couple said the US still had an "important" mission to stabilise Afghanistan. And while Mrs Hester said she was "devastated for the victims" she said she didn't think the killings alone would turn US public opinion irreversibly against the war.
In that way, her husband said, it could not be compared to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968, when a unit from a US army battalion killed between 347 and 504 villagers, mostly elderly men, women and children.
When the My Lai massacre became public knowledge, six months after it happened, the killings caused a public outrage and increased domestic pressure on the administration of Richard M Nixon to withdraw US troops. US military involvement in Vietnam ended in 1973.
Mr Obama on Monday said the comparison did not bear up because the soldier in Kandahar "appeared " to have acted alone.