A US army sergeant “methodically” killed 16 civilians in the southern Afghanistan villages of Alkozai and Najeeban in Kandahar, shooting them after breaking into three homes. Three women and nine children were among those killed, with eleven of the dead from one family. The soldier gathered some of the bodies and set fire to them after the killings, which occurred early on Sunday morning. At least five Afghans were wounded, some seriously in the attacks so the number of the dead could rise. According to the US military, the soldier returned afterwards to his base and turned himself in.
The New York Times reports that the soldier is attached to a unit based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a major Army and Air Force installation near Tacoma, Washington, and is part of what is called a village stabilization operation. He is married and has two children and had served three tours of duty in Iraq; he had been deployed to Afghanistan in December for the first time.
The killings occurred at a time when relations between Kabul and the US are already fragile and strained. President Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks, which he described in a statement as an “inhuman and intentional act” and also as “an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven.” President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta have both called Karzai to express their condolences and promise a full investigation of the attacks, which the President referred to as “tragic and shocking.”
The lower house of the Afghan parliament issued a resolution saying that Afghans had “run out of patience with the arbitrary actions of foreign forces” and demanding that “the government of the United States punish the culprits and try them in a public trial before the people of Afghanistan,” though under a NATO agrement with the Afghan government, foreign soldiers are to be tried in their own countries.
Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a NATO spokesman, said that “the initial reporting that we have at this time indicates there was one shooter, and we have one man in custody.” Some Afghan officials and local residents have expressed doubt that one soldier could carry out so many killings in houses located more than a mile apart and burn the bodies afterwards. A survivor from the attacks, 40-year-old Abdul Hadi, told the New York Times that he was in one of the houses whose door the soldier broke down and only survived because he was hidden by the women in his family. Hadi said that more than one soldier participated in the attacks as did other villagers, who also spoke of seeing a helicopter and flares at the scene. But other Afghan residents said they had only seen one gunman while a senior American diplomat said that other troops and helicopters had only appeared after the shooting, the latter to evacuate the wounded to a military hospital.
The Taliban has vowed revenge after the attacks and Americans in Afghanistan are being warned of reprisal attacks, especially in the wake of the deaths of 30 people after US troops inadvertently burned copies of the Koran at the Bagram air base in Kabul in February, and after videos of US Marines urinating on dead Afghans surfaced in January. The BBC quotes sources close to Karzai who says that Sunday’s killings will “complicate negotiations on a strategic agreement between the two countries” according to which US troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2014. The incident will also complicate the American campaign of night raids on Afghan homes as Sunday’s attack “bore some similarities to the night raids carried out by coalition forces in Afghanistan,” says the New York Times.
The Guardian reports that, on Monday, there have so far been no signs of protests after the multiple killings and that the response among Afghans remains yet “unclear.”
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