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Early Sunday, a lone soldier walked out of his base and into the nearby village in the Panjway district of the Kandahar province in Afghanistan. This U.S. soldier then opened fire on civilians. Sixteen Afghan villagers, mostly women and children, were killed.
The soldier returned to the base and turned himself in to authorities following the killings. He remains in U.S. custody but his identity has not been disclosed. At this time his motive is also unknown. Initial reports from witnesses stated a group of possible drunk U.S. soldiers were responsible for the killings. U.S. officials maintain that there was simply one shooter.
Washington moved quick to put distance between the lone gunman and the 90,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan. According to reports, President Obama phoned the Afghan President Hamid Karzai and expressed his shock and sadness as well as offering condolences to the victims’ families and the Afghan people.
In a statement released by the White House, Obama said, “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.” Obama also vowed “to get the facts as quickly as possible and to hold accountable anyone responsible.” To accomplish this goal a joint investigation will be carried out by the U.S. and Afghan authorities.
According to the Washington Post, President Karzai has already sent senior government officials to Panjway to investigate the shootings. During their visit they found that 11 of the dead were from one family. The shootings come at a sensitive time in U.S.-Afghan relations. Officials from both sides had signed a deal on Friday, March 9 to transfer a U.S.-run prison at Bagram airbase to Afghan authorities.
This transfer was insisted on by Karzai and was considered progress in reaching a Strategic Partnership Agreement, said the New York Times, allowing long-term American involvement in Afghanistan after 2014. Now officials are worried about retaliatory attacks. Tensions had begun to ease after the accidental burning of copies of the Koran at the main NATO base in Afghanistan just a few weeks earlier. Protests following the Koran burning led to the deaths of 30 people.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued an emergency statement on their website to alert “U.S. citizens in Afghanistan that as a result of a tragic shooting incident in Kandahar province involving a U.S. service member, there is a risk of anit-American feelings and protests in the coming days, especially in the eastern and southern provinces.”
The Taliban wasted no time issuing a statement condemning the killings and possibly adding fuel to the fire. “The so-called American peacekeepers have once again quenched their thirst with the blood of innocent Afghan civilians.” They also pledged to “avenge every single death inflicted by the savage murderer invaders.” It is difficult to predict the extent of the backlash but the officials in Washington seem to be preparing for the worst.