UPDATE: A US soldier is being interrogated after opening fire on civilians in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 16, including children, in an attack described by Afghan president Hamid Karzai as “unforgivable”.
US President Barack Obama described yesterday’s massacre as “tragic and shocking”, and called Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai to express his “shock and sadness”.
Karzai has responded furiously to the massacre, in which women and children were killed in their homes in a pre-dawn rampage.
Nine children and three women were among the dead, Mr Karzai said.
The shooter was an Army staff sergeant based out of the Ft Lewis-McChord joint base in Washington State, senior US officials told FOX News Channel.
In an interview on ABC News, Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby added that the solder is married with two children and was on his first mission in Afghanistan.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the soldier left his base in the Panjway district of Kandahar province and walked about a mile to a nearby village, where he went on a house-to-house rampage during the early hours of yesterday morning (local time).
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.
A joint Afghan-coalition investigation is underway into the shooting, and it remains unclear what the shooter’s motives were or whether he had previous contact with his victims.
The senior US officials told FOX News that after killing his victims, the soldier walked back to the base and immediately turned himself in.
US Air Force Capt Justin Brockhoff, a coalition spokesman in Kabul, said numerous civilian casualties were being treated in coalition military facilities.
The shooting is likely to ramp up tensions between Washington and Afghanistan at a delicate moment for the two countries.
“When Afghan people are killed deliberately by US forces this action is murder and terror and an unforgivable action,” Mr Karzai said in statement.
“The government and the people of Afghanistan demand an explanation from the United States government of this incident.”
President Barack Obama called Mr Karzai yesterday to personally express his “shock and sadness” at the incident.
In a statement, Obama said he supports an investigation of the attack that will hold the perpetrator responsible.
“I am deeply saddened by the reported killing and wounding of Afghan civilians. 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,” he said.
“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.”
Obama quickly moved to assure Karzai, telling him in a phone call of Washington’s “commitment to establish the facts as quickly as possible and to hold fully accountable anyone responsible”, the White House said.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta also called Karzai and assured him that a “full investigation” was under way. In Brussels, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed shock and offered his “heartfelt condolences”.
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”.
Deteriorating US-Afghan relations risk 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 Taliban 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.
The shooting sparked renewed soul-searching in the US about the war, which began in 2001 when an American-led force toppled the Taliban regime in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
“There’s something profoundly wrong with how we’re approaching the whole region and I think it’s going to get substantially worse, not better,” Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich told Fox News.’
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 exacerbated 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 Taliban insurgents fighting to oust Karzai’s government, which is supported by some 130,000 US-led NATO troops.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he also spoke to Mr Karzai, offering his “deepest condolences and profound regret” for the shooting rampage.
“I told President Karzai that the American people share the outrage felt by President Karzai and his fellow citizens,” Panetta said in the statement, noting that the soldier was “clearly acting outside his chain of command.”
A statement issued by ISAF Commander Gen John R Allen said he was “shocked and saddened” in the wake of the incident.
Gen Allen pledged to continue offering medical care to the wounded and to cooperate with Afghan authorities in the investigation.
The shooting comes just weeks after the burning of Korans by US soldiers at a US detention facility north of Kabul. Anti-American riots rippled across the country in response, leaving some 30 protesters dead.
Six US troops were also killed in three separate attacks on American personnel by Afghan service members amid the unrest.
Last year, four US Army soldiers were convicted of deliberately murdering Afghan civilians and collecting their body parts as trophies in Kandahar in 2010.
The US Embassy in Kabul warned US citizens in Afghanistan that there is “a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days, especially in eastern and southern provinces”.
“US citizens in Afghanistan should remain vigilant and avoid areas where Westerners congregate,” it said. “Avoid large public gatherings or demonstrations. Past demonstrations in Afghanistan have escalated into violent attacks on Western targets of opportunity.”
The embassy said it is “carefully monitoring the situation”.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s interior ministry urged calm, and said people should await the outcome of investigations into the shooting before reaching any conclusions.
“This is a very unfortunate incident, but we ask people to let us do the investigation first,” Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi told Tolo News.
Source: Herald Sun