Top of the Agenda: U.S. Sergeant Kills Afghan Civilians
A U.S. Army Sergeant allegedly killed at least sixteen Afghan civilians (NYT) deliberately in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar Province on Sunday, prompting threats of retaliation by the Taliban. U.S. forces reportedly took the perpetrator into custody. The incident is likely to compound already strained U.S.-Afghan relations, which were pushed to new lows after it was revealed that NATO soldiers had burned Qurans at a U.S.-run air base north of Kabul. Both the U.S. and Afghan governments condemned yesterday's attack, while Western personnel in Afghanistan braced for a potentially violent backlash.
"Early signs suggest that the repeated killings of U.S. troops had become too much for one of their own, who apparently tried to exact his own perverse revenge, Pentagon officials theorize. Does it represent a turning point? It surely bruises, if not breaks, the trust necessary for the U.S. to continue its mission of training enough Afghan security forces to let the U.S. leave by 2015," writes TIME's Mark Thompson.
"The NATO command needs to determine what happened in Kandahar--quickly--and take remedial action to ensure it cannot happen again. Coming right after the unintentional desecration of Qurans and the deaths of several NATO soldiers from rogue Afghan soldiers, this latest tragedy will further inflame anti-foreign sentiment in Afghanistan," writes Bruce Riedel for the Daily Beast.
"If apologies are insulting to Afghan intelligence, the psychiatric argument is pathetic. Explaining the sergeant's shooting spree and the horrific killing of 16 civilians, including nine children, and badly injuring others isn't the culmination of mere mental distress," writes al-Jazeera's Marwan Bishara.
Japan Marks Year Since Earthquake and Tsunami
Japan marked Sunday the first anniversary of a devastating earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear crisis that left close to twenty thousand people dead or missing (JapanTimes). The disaster, for which recovery efforts are ongoing, triggered an international backlash against nuclear power.
CHINA: The country reported a larger-than-expected trade deficit of $31.5 billion (WSJ) for February after nearly a decade of running large trade surpluses. The news came days after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao reduced China's growth target to 7.5 percent for 2012.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Pakistan Reaches Out to Militant Groups
Pakistan invited the Taliban and other militant groups to engage in peace talks if they "abandoned extremism" (AFP), offering to remove them from a list of banned militant organizations that includes al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Syrian security forces killed at least forty-five women and children (al-Jazeera) this morning in the Karm el-Zaytoun neighborhood of Homs, activists said, even as Syria's state news agency blamed the murders on "terrorist gangs." Syrian forces also launched a crackdown on in the northern Idlib province, activists reported.
PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Israeli airstrikes killed two Palestinian militants (BBC) in the Gaza Strip, bringing the total number of Palestinians killed to twenty-one since violence erupted on Friday. Israel said Palestinians have fired at least 180 rockets into Israel from Gaza, wounding at least two Israelis.
Suicide Bomber Targets Church in Nigeria
A suicide bomber blew himself up in his car outside a Catholic church in the city of Jos yesterday, killing at least ten people (AP) and triggering retaliatory violence. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram was suspected of causing the incident.
MALI: Tuareg rebels took control (Reuters) of the northern garrison town of Tessalit, forcing government soldiers and civilians to retreat toward the Algerian border.
Merkel, Lagarde Divided Over Debt Crisis
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the de facto leader of the eurozone, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde are at odds over how to address the eurozone sovereign debt crisis in the wake of a second EU bailout for Greece (NYT). Merkel has called for continued austerity on the part of indebted eurozone states, while Lagarde has pushed for a larger EU rescue fund.
The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
Appearing on Face the Nation (CBS), GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich responded to news Sunday that sixteen Afghan civilians were allegedly killed by a U.S. soldier, saying it was time to make major policy changes in Afghanistan, including immediate withdrawal.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum tied job creation and energy together on a Meet the Press (NBC) appearance, saying he would speed along economic recovery and create jobs by building the Keystone pipeline and approving drilling projects offshore and in Alaska.
Editor's Note: For more information on the presidential election and foreign policy, check out CFR's campaign blog, The Candidates and the World.