Sol­dier’s shoot­ing spree stirs more Afghan fury

Amer­i­can held in deaths of civil­ians

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY DAVE BOYER

Pres­i­dent Obama of­fered con­do­lences to the peo­ple of Afghanistan on Sun­day for the killings of 16 civil­ians by a U.S. sol­dier in an ap­par­ent shoot­ing ram­page.

“I am deeply sad­dened by the re­ported killing and wound­ing of Afghan civil­ians,” Mr. Obama said in a 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.”

An Amer­i­can sol­dier opened fire on vil­lagers near his base in south­ern Afghanistan Sun­day, killing 16, said Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, who called it an “as­sas­si­na­tion” and fu­ri­ously de­manded an ex­pla­na­tion from Washington. Nine chil­dren and three women were among the dead.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta said the shoot­ing sus­pect is in cus­tody, adding that he had spo­ken with Mr. Karzai to as­sure him that “we will bring those re­spon­si­ble to jus­tice.”

Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. com­man­der in Afghanistan, spoke sim­i­larly Sun­day, ex­press­ing his “deep­est con­do­lences” to the Afghan peo­ple and pledg­ing that “any­one who is found to have com­mit­ted wrong­do­ing is held fully ac­count­able.”

U.S. of­fi­cials said the ser­vice mem­ber was be­ing de­tained in Kan­da­har and that the mil­i­tary was treat­ing at least five wounded. One U.S. of­fi­cial said the sol­dier, an Army staff sergeant, was thought to have acted alone and that ini­tial re­ports in­di­cated he re­turned to the base af­ter the shoot­ing and sur­ren­dered.

One of­fi­cial, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, said the shooter is a sol­dier from Joint Base Lewis-mcchord in Washington state, as­signed to sup­port a spe­cial-op­er­a­tions unit of ei­ther Green Berets or Navy SEALS en­gaged in a vil­lage-sta­bil­ity op­er­a­tion.

The killing spree deep­ened a cri­sis be­tween U.S. forces and their Afghan hosts over Amer­i­cans burn­ing Mus­lim holy books on a base in Afghanistan. The burn­ings sparked weeks of vi­o­lent protests and at­tacks that left about 30 dead. Six U.S. ser­vice mem­bers have been killed by their Afghan col­leagues since the Ko­ran burn­ings came to light, but the vi­o­lence had just started to sub­side.

“This is an as­sas­si­na­tion, an in­ten­tional killing of in­no­cent civil­ians and can­not be for­given,” Mr. Karzai said in a state­ment. He said he has de­manded re­peat­edly that the U.S. stop killing Afghan civil­ians.

Mr. Obama called Mr. Karzai on Sun­day “to ex­press his shock and sad­ness at the re­ported killing and wound­ing of Afghan civil­ians,” the White House said. The White House press sec­re­tary’s of­fice added that dur­ing the call, Mr. Obama “reaf­firmed our deep re­spect for the Afghan peo­ple and the bonds be­tween our two coun­tries.”

Mr. Obama expressed his sym­pa­thy “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.”

Mr. Obama learned of the shoot­ings Sun­day morn­ing from se­nior na­tional se­cu­rity staff and re­ceived a brief­ing be­fore call­ing Mr. Karzai, said deputy Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokes­woman Caitlin Hay­den.

The vi­o­lence over the Ko­ran burn­ings spurred calls in the U.S. for a faster exit strat­egy from the 10-year-old Afghanistan war. Mr. Obama said re­cently that “now is the time for us to tran­si­tion.” But he also said he had no plan to change the timetable that has Afghans tak­ing con­trol of se­cu­rity coun­try­wide by the end of 2014.

Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hopeful Newt Gin­grich, in an ap­pear­ance on “Fox News Sun­day,” said he thinks U.S. in­volve­ment in the re­gion around Afghanistan may be risk­ing the lives of young troops in a mis­sion that “may not be doable.”

The ten­sions be­tween the two coun­tries ap­peared to be eas­ing as re­cently as Fri­day, when the U.S. and Afghan gov­ern­ments signed a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing about the trans­fer of Afghan de­tainees to Afghan con­trol — a key step to­ward an even­tual strate­gic part­ner­ship to gov­ern U.S. forces in the coun­try.

But Sun­day’s shoot­ing could push that agree­ment fur­ther away.

“This is a fa­tal ham­mer blow on the U.S. mil­i­tary mis­sion in Afghanistan. What­ever sliver of trust and cred­i­bil­ity we might have had fol­low­ing the burn­ings of the Ko­ran is now gone,” said David Cor­tright, di­rec­tor of pol­icy stud­ies at the Univer­sity of 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,” Mr. Cor­tright said.

One of the sur­vivors, a 15-year-old boy named Rafi­ul­lah who was shot in the leg, spoke to Mr. Karzai by phone and de­scribed how the Amer­i­can sol­dier en­tered his house in the mid­dle of the night, woke up his fam­ily and be­gan shoot­ing them, ac­cord­ing to the Afghan pres­i­dent’s state­ment.

An As­so­ci­ated Press 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 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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

YOUNG CA­SU­ALTY: Anar Gul shows the body of her grand­child, who she said was killed by a U.S. ser­vice mem­ber. Among the 16 civil­ians killed were nine chil­dren and three women. Story, A11.

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