Leon Panetta
Leon Panetta Reuters

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Wednesday sought to defuse tensions in Afghanistan in the wake of a Quran burning and the killing of 16 civilians by an American soldier.

Visiting Afghanistan just days after the incident – which included the murder of nine children – Panetta referred to the incident as “deeply troubling.”

However, he insisted that NATO and Afghan forces were making progress and had to stay “focused on the mission” to defeat al-Qaeda and reverse a Taliban insurgency.

Speaking to Marines, coalition troops and Afghan soldiers at Camp Leatherneck, Panetta acknowledged the Quran burning and murders.

“Each of these incidents is deeply troubling,” he said, adding “We will not allow individual incidents to undermine our resolve.”

“We will be tested, we will be challenged by the enemy, by ourselves and by the hell of war itself,” Panetta added.

But he said: “thanks to your efforts, our strategy is working.”

Panetta held talks with Helmand provincial leaders, which the Pentagon described as an “excellent discussion.”

“Secretary Panetta told them that the United States remains focused on the mission, and that recent events will not deter us from carrying it out,” the Pentagon said.

“Those events do not represent the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces, or US and ISAF forces – the vast majority of whom are trying to do the right thing.”

Panetta’s race to do damage control came as Taliban terror insurgents sought to intensify attacks on coalition forces in “revenge” for the slayings.

On Tuesday, Taliban insurgents opened fire on an Afghan government delegation attending a memorial service for the murdered civilians in Panjwai district in Kandahar province, where the shooting took place. 

Several attacks targeting coalition forces were also staged in Helmand province during Panetta’s visit.

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