The shooting spree yesterday threatens to reignite anti- American protests weeks after a Koran-burning incident triggered violence. Women and children were among those killed in the attacks in the southern province of Kandahar, which has been a stronghold for the Taliban.
President Barack Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai “to express his shock and sadness” and pledge “his administration’s commitment to establish the facts as quickly as possible and to hold fully accountable anyone responsible,” according to a White House statement.
Karzai said the incident shows “great oppression and cruelty” toward the people of Afghanistan, according to a statement from his office. “The people of Afghanistan want full reports and clarity on the incident’s details from the United States of America,” Karzai said.
The soldier who allegedly shot the Afghan civilians is from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. Catherine Caruso, a public affairs specialist at the base near Tacoma, said she had no information about the identity of the shooter and referred questions to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Complicated NegotiationsThe shooting may complicate the already complex negotiations with Afghanistan on its relationship with the U.S. military after 2014, when NATO plans to hand off responsibility for security to the Afghan government. Those negotiations have been made more difficult by the Koran burning last month and by a video in January showing at least four U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses.
The International Security Assistance Force said the attack was being investigated.
“What we know is that a U.S. soldier left his forward operating base in the night hours from Saturday into Sunday, went into the nearby villages and opened fire on civilians in those villages,” Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, speaking for the ISAF, said in a video statement. The unidentified serviceman turned himself in after the incident and was being questioned, he said.
Among the dead were nine children and three women, Karzai said in a statement. Five others were wounded. ISAF personnel were tending to the wounded, Jacobson said.
House to HouseThe soldier went to three houses in the villages of Najib Yan and Alokozai in Kandahar’s Panjwayi district and opened fire, according to villagers who spoke to Bloomberg News by telephone.
“The soldier killed four of my family members including my wife, sisters and a baby nephew,” Habibullah Khan said by telephone. “I was out of the district in the city of Kandahar, but when I came back I saw blood and all four people had been killed in their beds.”
The attacker brought 11 of the dead into one home and set the bodies on fire, according to Mohammed, a tribal elder in the district who asked that his last name not be used. The Associated Press and Reuters also reported that bodies had been set alight. AP and the BBC said the soldier was a staff sergeant.
The soldier is 38 years old and is married with two children, ABC News said, citing a U.S. official it didn’t name. The soldier was on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan after three tours in Iraq, according to the report on ABC’s website.
Taliban Reacts“The so-called American peace keepers have once again quenched their thirst with the blood of innocent Afghan civilians in Kandahar province,” the Taliban said in a statement posted on a website used by the insurgents, according to the AP.
Protests over the burning of Korans in a trash dump at a U.S. air base led to attacks on U.S. personnel in Afghanistan last month. Two American advisers were shot dead in the Interior Ministry Feb. 25, while nine Afghans were killed and two American soldiers wounded in a suicide car-bombing in eastern Afghanistan Feb. 27.
Yesterday’s shootings appear to be “an individual act” and are not being linked to “the incidents that happened recently,” Jacobson said.
“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,” U.S. Marine General John R. Allen, commander of ISAF, said in a statement. “Nor does it impugn or diminish the spirit of cooperation and partnership we have worked so hard to foster with the Afghan National Security Forces.”
Promises of AccountabilityU.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who also called Karzai, said in a statement that he gave Karzai assurances that “we will hold any perpetrator who is responsible for this violence fully accountable under the law” and that “I am fully committed to ensuring that our cooperation continues.”
While Panetta didn’t say so in his statement, the U.S. retains legal jurisdiction over American troops under a U.S.- Afghan accord, according to a Jan. 5, 2011, report by the Congressional Research Service.
Elected officials in the U.S. debated the attack’s potential impact on already tense U.S.-Afghan relations.
“One incident like this can change the equation” Virginia’s Republican Governor Bob McDonnell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday. “It’s tragic because we have so many brave” soldiers serving in Afghanistan, he said.
‘Anger and Sorrow’Asked yesterday about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich said the mission is “not doable” at the current level of U.S. military forces.
“We are risking the lives of men and women for a mission frankly that is not worth doing” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said “anger and sorrow” over the shootings shouldn’t distract from the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
“We should not forget the attacks on the United States of America in 9/11 originated in Afghanistan,” McCain of Arizona said. “And if Afghanistan dissolved into a situation where the Taliban were able to take over or a chaotic situation, it could easily return to an al-Qaeda base for attacks on the United States.”
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