US soldier kills 16 in Afghan rampage Home invasion … women, children among dead

ALKOZAI, Afghanistan, March 11, (Agencies): Sixteen Afghans including women and children were killed in their homes by a rogue US soldier in a pre-dawn rampage Sunday, plunging relations between the two countries into a new crisis.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the slaughter as “unforgivable.”
“When Afghan people are killed deliberately by US forces this action is murder and terror and an unforgivable action,” Karzai said in statement.
The American soldier entered the homes of civilians in the southern Kandahar province and killed 16 people including nine children and three women, the statement said.
It quoted a wounded 16-year-old, who was shot in the leg, as telling Karzai by phone that the US soldier entered their home in the dark, woke up his family members and then shot them.
“The government and the people of Afghanistan demand an explanation from the United States government of this incident,” Karzai said.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said it had arrested a soldier over the incident, and the commander, General John Allen, condemned “this deeply appalling incident.”
He also vowed to hold “fully accountable” anyone found responsible for the killing spree.
“I cannot explain the motivation behind such callous acts, but they were in no way part of authorised ISAF military activity,” his deputy, Lt Gen Adrian Bradshaw, said in a statement as the US rushed to offer condolences.
“The United States extends deepest condolences to the families of today’s tragic shooting and we’re saddened by this violent act against our Afghan friends,” a State Department spokeswoman said.
The US embassy in Kabul sent out an alert to its citizens in Afghanistan warning that as a result of the shooting “there is a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days.”
An AFP reporter at the scene of the killings counted the bodies of 16 people, including women and children. In one house, an elderly woman screamed: “May God kill the only son of Karzai, so he feels what we feel.”
Western sources said the rampage began after a US soldier walked off his base in the early hours of Sunday morning, apparently heavily-armed and carrying night-vision equipment.
He was arrested outside the base after the shooting by members of the Afghan National Army, the army corps commander in southern Afghanistan, Abdul Hameed, told AFP.
The massacre was the latest in a series of incidents that have badly frayed US-Afghan relations, complicating negotiations on a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries for when US combat operations end in 2014.
The treaty would likely cover the legal status of any US troops remaining in Afghanistan to help Kabul with intelligence, air power and logistics in the fight against Taleban insurgents.
In Iraq, Washington abandoned its pursuit of a strategic partnership deal and pulled out all its troops, leaving no residual force, after failing to get Baghdad to grant its soldiers legal immunity.
Relations plunged to an all-time low last month after the burning of Holy Qurans at a military base near the Afghan capital, sparking anti-US protests in which some 40 people died and forcing US President Barack Obama to apologise.
During the protests, six American soldiers were killed when Afghan colleagues turned their weapons against them.
But there was no word on what might have motivated the soldier’s actions in Kandahar.
An Afghan government official, who described Karzai as “very angry” over the incident, said the president had dispatched the army chief of staff to head an investigation.
Afghan resentment of US forces has also been provoked by a video posted online in January showing US Marines urinating on the bloodied corpses of slain Afghan insurgents — an incident condemned by the Pentagon.
And in November, the ringleader of a rogue American military “kill team” charged with murder for shooting civilians for sport was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison by a military panel.
Kandahar is a stronghold of Taleban insurgents fighting to oust Karzai’s government, which is supported by some 130,000 US-led NATO troops.
“This is a fatal hammer blow on the US military mission in Afghanistan. Whatever sliver of trust and credibility we might have had following the burnings of the Holy Quran is now gone,” said David Cortright, the director of policy studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and an advocate for a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“This may have been the act of a lone, deranged soldier. But the people of Afghanistan will see it for what it was, a wanton massacre of innocent civilians,” Cortright said.
One villager said 11 of those killed were members of his family, some of them women and children.
An AP photographer saw 15 bodies between the two villages caught up in the shooting. Some of the bodies had been burned, while others were covered with blankets. A young boy partially wrapped in a blanket was in the back of a minibus, dried blood crusted on his face and pooled in his ear. His loose-fitting brown pants were partly burned, revealing a leg charred by fire.
Villagers packed inside the minibus looked on with concern as a woman spoke to reporters. She pulled back a blanket to reveal the body of a smaller child wearing what appeared to be red pajamas. A third dead child lay amid a pile of green blankets in the bed of a truck.
Some villagers questioned whether a single soldier could have killed so many people. But a US official in Washington said the American, an Army staff sergeant, was believed to have acted alone and that initial reports indicated he returned to the base after the shooting and turned himself in.
Five people were wounded in the pre-dawn attack in Kandahar province, including a 15-year-old boy named Rafiullah who was shot in the leg and spoke to Karzai over the telephone. He described how the American soldier entered his house in the middle of the night, woke up his family and began shooting them, according to Karzai’s statement.
NATO officials apologized for the shootings but did not confirm that anyone was killed, referring instead to reports of deaths.
“This deeply appalling incident in no way represents the values of ISAF and coalition troops or the abiding respect we feel for the Afghan people,” Allen said in a statement, using the abbreviation for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
The attack took place in two villages in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province. The villages - Balandi and Alkozai - are about 500 yards (meters) away from a US base. The shooting started around 3 am, said Asadullah Khalid, the government representative for southern Afghanistan and a member of the delegation that went to investigate the incident.
A resident of the village of Alkozai, Abdul Baqi, told the AP that, based on accounts of his neighbors, the American gunman went into three different houses and opened fire.
“When it was happening in the middle of the night, we were inside our houses. I heard gunshots and then silence and then gunshots again,” Baqi said.
International forces have fought for control of Panjwai for years as they’ve tried to subdue the Taleban in their rural strongholds. The Taleban movement started just to the north of Panjwai and many of the militant group’s senior leaders, including chief Mullah Omar, were born, raised, fought or preached in the area. Omar once ran an Islamic school in an area of Panjwai that has since been carved into a new district.
In addition to its symbolic significance, the district is an important base for the Taleban to target the city of Kandahar to the east. Panjwai was seen as key to securing Kandahar city when US forces flooded the province as part of Obama’s strategy to surge in the south starting in 2009.
Twelve of the dead were from Balandi, said Samad Khan, a farmer who lost all 11 members of his family, including women and children. Khan was away from the village when the incident occurred and returned to find his family members shot and burned. One of his neighbors was also killed, he said. It was unclear how or why the bodies were burned.
“This is an anti-human and anti-Islamic act,” said Khan. “Nobody is allowed in any religion in the world to kill children and women.”
Khan and other villagers demanded that Karzai punish the American shooter.
“Otherwise we will make a decision,” said Khan. “He should be handed over to us.”
The four people killed in the village of Alkozai were all from one family, said a female relative who was shouting in anger. She did not give her name because of the conservative nature of local society.
“No Taleban were here. No gunbattle was going on,” said the woman. “We don’t know why this foreign soldier came and killed our innocent family members. Either he was drunk or he was enjoying killing civilians.”
The Taleban called the shootings the latest sign that international forces are working against the Afghan people.
“The so-called American peace keepers have once again quenched their thirst with the blood of innocent Afghan civilians in Kandahar province,” the Taleban said in a statement posted on a website used by the insurgent group.
Karzai said he was sending a high-level delegation to investigate.
US forces have been implicated before in other violence in the same area.
Four soldiers from a Stryker brigade out of Lewis-McChord, Washington, have been sent to prison in connection with the 2010 killings of three unarmed men during patrols in Kandahar province’s Maiwand district, which is just northwest of Panjwai. They were accused of forming a “kill team” that murdered Afghan civilians for sport - slaughtering victims with grenades and powerful machine guns during patrols, then dropping weapons near their bodies to make them appear to have been combatants.
And in January, before the Holy Quran burning incident, a video that purportedly showed US Marines urinating on corpses of men they had killed sparked widespread outrage.
Obama has apologized for the Holy Quran burnings and said they were a mistake. The Holy Qurans and other Islamic books were taken from a detention facility and dumped in a burn pit last month because they were believed to contain extremist messages or inscriptions. A military official said at the time that it appeared detainees were exchanging messages by making notations in the texts.
Obama has meanwhile, been briefed on the killing spree of the US soldier in Afghanistan.
“We are deeply concerned by the initial reports of this incident, and are monitoring the situation closely,” a White House spokeswoman told AFP, adding that Obama “has been briefed” on the incident.
The president’s national security cabinet includes the secretaries of state, defense, homeland security and the heads of the CIA and the FBI.
US President Barack Obama expressed deep sadness Sunday at a “tragic and shocking” shooting incident in Afghanistan, after a US soldier allegedly killed 16 civilians, mostly women and children.
“I offer my condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives, and to the people of Afghanistan, who have endured too much violence and suffering,” Obama said in a written statement.
“This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan,” the president said, offering his full backing for a US investigation “to get the facts as quickly as possible and to hold accountable anyone responsible.”
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a phone call Sunday that a “full investigation” was under way over the incident.
“A suspect is in custody, and I gave President Karzai my assurances that we will bring those responsible to justice,” Panetta said, adding that he is “shocked and saddened that a US service member... clearly acting outside his chain of command” has been linked to the incident.
“We will spare no effort in getting the facts as quickly as possible, and we will hold any perpetrator who is responsible for this violence fully accountable under the law,” said Panetta, echoing an earlier statement made by US General John Allen, the commander of the US-led international forces in Afghanistan.
“As we mourn today with the Afghan people,” Panetta said in the statement, “we are steadfast in our resolve to work hand in hand with our Afghan partners to accomplish the missions and goals on which we have been working together for so long.”

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