Taliban vow revenge,say killing of Afghan civilians ‘inhumane’

Obama calls attack ‘tragic,shocking’; Pentagon says war strategy will not change

Written by Associated Press | Kabul | Published: March 13, 2012 12:29:04 am

The Taliban vowed revenge Monday for an “inhumane attack’’ in which a US soldier allegedly shot to death 16 civilians in southern Afghanistan and torched their bodies,an assault that has fuelled anger still simmering after US troops burned Qurans last month.

US-led forces in Afghanistan have stepped up security following the shootings Sunday in Kandahar province out of concern about retaliatory attacks. The US Embassy has also warned citizens in Afghanistan about the possibility of reprisals.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for several attacks last month that the group said were in retaliation for the Americans burning Qurans.

There were no signs of protests Monday and it was unclear what the response would be to Sunday’s deadly spree. But the attack will likely spark greater distrust between Washington and Kabul and fuel questions in both countries about why American troops are still fighting in Afghanistan after 10 years of conflict and the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban said in a statement on their website that “sick-minded American savages’’ committed the “blood-soaked and inhumane crime’’ in Panjwai district,a rural region outside Kandahar that is the cradle of the Taliban and where coalition forces have fought for control for years.

US President Barack Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai and described the shooting as “tragic and shocking”. He vowed a speedy probe.

There are still many questions about what happened in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai in Panjwai before dawn Sunday. US and Afghan officials have said the attack began around 3 am in the two villages. Villagers described how they cowered in fear as gunshots rang out while the soldier,a married father of two,roamed from house to house.

The Pentagon said,the US military will not identify the American soldier. The Pentagon’s chief spokesman also said the basic war strategy in Afghanistan would not change despite the mass killing. Spokesman George Little called the killings a deplorable but “isolated incident.”

US officials said the shooter,identified as an Army staff sergeant,acted alone after leaving his base in southern Afghanistan. Initial reports indicated he returned to the base after the shooting and turned himself in.

Some Afghans expressed doubt that a single US soldier could have carried out all the killings in houses more than a mile apart and burned the bodies afterward.

The main responsibility of the soldier,from Joint Base Lewis-McChord,Washington,was to help protect the forces stationed at the small combat outpost,said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings,a NATO spokesman. “The soldier was not assigned to a special operations unit and has no special operations training,” he said.

Civilian deaths spark calls for US exit from country
The massacre of 16 villagers by a US soldier has triggered angry calls for an immediate American exit from Afghanistan as Washington tries to negotiate a long-term presence to keep the country from sliding into chaos again. The attack,the latest American public relations disaster in Afghanistan,may be a turning point for the US in a costly and unpopular war now in its eleventh year. Afghanistan’s parliament condemned the killings,saying Afghans had run out of patience with the actions of foreign forces and the lack of oversight. Popular fury over the killing spree,which brought demands that the US withdraw earlier than scheduled,could be exploited by the Taliban to gain new recruits.

Suspect’s base in us said to be ‘most troubled’
Joint Base Lewis-McChord:
A US soldier suspected of the killing comes from one of the largest military installations in the US,and one that has seen its share of controversy and violence. Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state,home to about 1,00,000 military and civilian personnel,was the home of four soldiers convicted in the deliberate thrill killings of three Afghan civilians in 2010. The military newspaper Stars and Stripes called Lewis-McChord “the most troubled base in the military’’ that year. Catherine Caruso,a spokeswoman for Lewis-McChord,said she could not comment on reports that the soldier involved in Sunday’s shootings was based there.


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