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Among the victims of the March 12 massacre: 9 children. (AP)

In Afghanistan massacre, did the gunman act alone?

ASK THIS | March 12, 2012

After a U.S. Army sergeant slaughters civilians in Afghanistan, some important questions about not just the incident, but the larger U.S. mission.

A U.S Army sergeant shoots, stabs and burns at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan -- delivering what David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, calls a "fatal hammer blow on the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.”

The Nieman Watchdog Project asked Cortright, who is also the author of “Ending Obama’s War: Responsible Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan," what questions reporters should be asking about the incident and its impact on the larger US mission. These are his suggestions:

Q. Did the killer have support? How could a heavily armed soldier with night vision gear walk out of a defended outpost without being noticed?

Q. Is this incident in any way related to the controversial U.S. military practice of house raids? "Kicking in doors," the troops call it. Was the shooter involved in such raids before this incident? Have the troops in this unit been involved in such raids recently? Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other officials have demanded that these raids stop. Analysts have observed that the raids violate local customs and anger local residents.

Q. What does this say about the torment soldiers may be feeling about their mission? They are sent to fight terrorists and help the Afghan people, they believe, yet they face hostility and protests from the local population and shootings from their supposed Afghan military allies. Why do we put our soldiers in such a situation?

Q. Counterinsurgency doctrine provides that the trust and support of the local population is the key to success. Is that possible in light of the pervasive distrust and anger our troops are facing?

Also see: U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan are committing atrocities, lying, and getting away with it, by Jerome Starkey, March 22, 2010.

And more Afghanistan coverage from Nieman Watchdog.

The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.