KANDAHAR: Western troops shot dead 16 civilians, including nine children, in Kandahar province on Sunday, Afghan officials said, in a rampage that witnesses said was carried out by Americans who were laughing and appeared drunk.
One Afghan father who said his children were killed in the spree accused soldiers of later burning the bodies.
Witnesses told Reuters they saw a group of US soldiers at their village in Kandahar’s Panjwayi district at 2am enter homes and open fire. However, the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force called it an individual act and said it had arrested the suspected soldier.
The incident, one of the worst of its kind since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, is likely to deepen the divide between Washington and Kabul. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta assured President Hamid Karzai in a phone call that a ‘full investigation’ was under way into the incident.
“A suspect is in custody, and I gave President Karzai my assurances that we will bring those responsible to justice,” Panetta said.
US President Barack Obama expressed deep sadness at the “tragic and shocking” act and offered his condolences. “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,” the president said, offering his full backing for the US investigation “to get the facts as quickly as possible and to hold accountable anyone responsible.”
The rampage incensed President Karzai who denounced it as ‘intentional murders’ and demanded an explanation from the US.
Haji Samad said 11 of his relatives were killed in one home, including his children. Pictures showed blood-splattered where the children were killed. “They (Americans) poured chemicals over their dead bodies and burned them,” a weeping Samad told Reuters at the scene.
“I saw that all 11 of my relatives were killed, including my children and grandchildren,” said Samad, who had left the home earlier. Neighbours said they awoke to crackling gunfire from soldiers, whom they described as laughing and drunk.
“They were all drunk and shooting all over the place,” said Agha Lala, who visited one of the homes where the shooting took place. “Their bodies were riddled with bullets.”
The Taliban condemned the rampage as ‘barbarianism’ and ‘savagery’ and vowed revenge.
In a statement, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that “American invaders backed by their puppets (Afghan soldiers) raided several homes near their base in Balambi village of Panjwaee district.” They shot the victims at point blank range and “so far 50 bodies have been found and recovered by the villagers, including 11 from one home”, he added. “The American soldiers also burnt down a number of houses of local villagers.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2012.