Afghans express skepticism over US soldier killing 16 civilians

(AP) - Afghans expressed doubt Monday that a single U.S. Army soldier could have shot and killed 16 civilians in houses over a mile apart

KABUL, Afghanistan - (AP) - Afghans expressed doubt Monday that a single U.S. Army soldier could have shot and killed 16 civilians in houses over a mile apart and burned the bodies afterward. The attack has reignited fury at the U.S. presence following a wave of deadly protests over Americans burning Qurans.

The U.S. military has said there is no indication that more than one soldier carried out the killings in two villages in southern Kandahar province before dawn Sunday. The soldier blamed for the shootings is in custody. But villagers told Afghan officials they heard shots being fired from several directions.

The attack threatens to bring the widest breach yet in U.S.-Afghan relations, raising questions both in Washington and Kabul about why American troops are still fighting in Afghanistan after 10 years of conflict and the killing of Osama bin Laden.

U.S. and Afghan officials have said the attack began around 3 a.m. in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai 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. The villages are roughly 500 yards from a U.S. base.

Villagers told The Associated Press on Sunday that a single soldier roamed from house to house firing on those inside. They said he entered three homes in all and set fire to some of the bodies. Eleven of the dead were from a single family, and nine of the victims were children.

But Abdul Rahim Ayubi, a lawmaker from Kandahar province, said the houses that were attacked were over a mile apart, raising questions about how a single soldier could have carried out all of the shootings.

"It is not possible for only one American soldier to come out of his base, kill a number of people far away, burn the bodies, go to another house and kill civilians there, then walk at least 2 kilometers and enter another house, kill civilians and burn them," said Ayubi.

Abdul Ghani, a local councilman in Panjwai district, said local villagers reported seeing two groups of soldiers.

"The villagers said they were hearing machine gun fire and pistol fire from different directions," said Ghani.

A spokesman for U.S.-led forces, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, said Monday that their reports still indicate a single soldier carried out the attacks.

"There's no indication that there was more than one shooter," said Cummings.

The Afghan defense ministry said Monday that its initial reports also indicate one soldier carried out the attacks, but they left open the possibility there could have been be more.

"The Afghan defense ministry requests a trial for the perpetrator or perpetrators of this attack," said a statement.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai also left open the possibility of more than one shooter in a statement Sunday. He initially spoke of a single U.S. gunman, then referred to "American forces" entering houses. The statement quoted a 15-year-old survivor named Rafiullah, who was shot in the leg, as telling Karzai in a phone call that "soldiers" broke into his house, woke up his family and began shooting them.

"This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven," Karzai said.

U.S. officials have identified the shooter as an Army staff sergeant and said initial reports indicated he returned to the base after the shooting and turned himself in.

The suspect, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., was assigned to support a special operations unit of either Green Berets or Navy SEALs engaged in a village stability operation, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still ongoing.

Special operations troops pair with villagers chosen by village elders to become essentially a sanctioned, armed neighborhood watch.

advertisement | advertise on News 12

Trending Video

VIDEO: Interview with mother of transgender girl 1 VIDEO: Interview with mother of transgender girl
VIDEO: News conference on Chatham helicopter crash 2 VIDEO: News conference on Chatham helicopter crash
The Kid's First Adventure day care center accidently 3 Newark day care leaves toddler behind after field trip
A small helicopter made a hard landing in 4 Helicopter wrecked after hard landing in Chatham
A gas explosion leveled a home in Stafford 5 Authorities determine cause of Stafford gas explosion

advertisement | advertise on News 12

Features

It's good to know you have Walt Kane Kane in Your Corner

It's good to know you have Walt Kane in your corner.

News 12 takes a look at the hottest Tech Check

Eric Landskroner has a look at the latest gadgets and biggest stories in tech.

News 12 On the Scene

Check out these exclusive videos from New Jersey celebs!

Sorry to interrupt...

Your first 5 are free

Access to News12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Time Warner® and Service Electric℠ video customers.

Please enjoy 5 complimentary views to articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.

LOGIN SUBSCRIBE