In January 2012 a report of "hatred growing rapidly" between American troops and Afghans was published in the New York Times. -- In February, relations were envenomed by a Quran-burning incident on an American base that U.S. officials sought to mitigate by calling it an "accident." -- On the second Sunday in March, an appalling incident occurred to poison relations further. -- Initial reports relayed by CNN had it that an American soldier left his base in Afghanistan and went on a killing spree that took the live of at least 16 civilians in their homes in two villages in Kandahar province. -- Official comments were quick to follow. -- "ISAF commander Gen. John Allen said the 'deeply appalling incident in no way represents the values of ISAF and coalition troops or the abiding respect we feel for the Afghan people.'" -- U.S. Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, seemed to make an attempt to excuse the atrocity, remarking that U.S. troops are "under tremendous pressure in Afghanistan." -- Sen. John McCain called it "one of those things that you cannot explain." -- U.S. President Barack Obama said that "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," *USA Today* reported. -- The single-soldier version was contradicted by Reuters, which reported multiple witnesses aying that "a group of U.S. soldiers" who were "laughing and appeared drunk" were involved. -- But Western media, more concerned with relations with authorities than veracity, downplayed witnesses' accounts. -- Fox News, for example, did not even mention witness accounts. -- The New York Times reported that one survivor "said there was more than one soldier involved in the attack, and at least five other villagers described seeing a number of soldiers, and also a helicopter and flares at the scene," but buried this detail in the eleventh paragraph and called it "unconfirmed," despite the fact that it is evident that the U.S. military has a greater motivation to prevaricate than villagers. -- And how many witnesses does it take to "confirm" something, anyway? -- Perhaps the Times should use the verb "validate" instead. -- A Google News search shows that an official lone gunman theory is now dominating news coverage, with only Reuters insisting, in a second report by a different journalist that "that is not what witnesses were saying" to reporters on the scene. -- COMMENT: In all these official statements and manipulations of accounts in the media we hear echoes of what Thomas Merton called "the Unspeakable." -- By "the Unspeakable," Merton meant "the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss" (cited by James W. Douglass in JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008], p. xvii)....
U.S. SOLDIER KILLS 16 AFGHAN CIVILIANS, KARZAI SAYS
By Sara Sidner
March 11, 2012
KABUL -- An American soldier left his base in Afghanistan and went from house to house in two villages, killing 16 people in their homes, Afghan officials told CNN Sunday.
The dead include nine children and three women, plus five wounded, President Hamid Karzai said.
"The murdering of innocent people intentionally by an American soldier is an act of terror that is unforgivable," Karzai said.
The incident looks likely to inflame tensions still further between foreign troops and Afghan civilians, many of whom were enraged by the burning of Qurans by American troops last month.
American officials from President Barack Obama down called the burning an accident and apologized for it, but riots left dozens dead, including six American troops. Hundreds more Afghans were wounded.
Obama has been briefed on Sunday's shootings, two administration officials said.
"The soldier goes to the villages of Alokozai and Barakzai and attacks four houses, in which he kills 16 civilians and wounded others," said Haji Agha Lali, a member of the provincial council who said he had just been to the area.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed that a soldier had gone off base and fired on civilians before turning himself in, but did not say how many victims there had been.
There has been confusion about the number of casualties since the shooting in Kandahar province, eastern Afghanistan, with different sources offering different numbers.
Capt. Justin Brockhoff of ISAF said there had been "multiple" casualties and that the injured Afghans were being treated in ISAF facilities.
ISAF commander Gen. John Allen said the "deeply appalling incident in no way represents the values of ISAF and coalition troops or the abiding respect we feel for the Afghan people."
"I am absolutely dedicated to making sure that anyone who is found to have committed wrongdoing is held fully accountable," he said.
Acting U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said his country was "saddened by this violent act against our Afghan friends."
"We deplore any attack by a member of the U.S. Armed Forces against innocent civilians," he said in a video statement, assuring "the people of Afghanistan that the individual or individuals responsible for this terrible act will be identified and brought to justice."
Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said American troops were "under tremendous pressure in Afghanistan," but that "no one can condone or make any suggestion that what (the service member) did was right because it was absolutely wrong."
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the United States was "on the right track to get out of Afghanistan just as soon as we can."
Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services committee, said: "It is one of those things that you cannot explain except to extend your deepest sympathy to those victims and see that justice is done."
He was speaking on Fox News Sunday.
The Taliban claimed that 50 people had been killed, but the Islamist militia regularly exaggerates casualty figures.
They disputed ISAF's version of events, saying several soldiers went on a raid that resulted in dozens of deaths.
But Maj. Jason Waggoner, another ISAF spokesman, said: "The civilian casualties were not the result of any operations. The soldier was acting on his own. After the incident he returned to the compound and turned himself in."
Brockhoff said officials do not yet have a motive for the shooting, which is under investigation by both NATO and Afghan officials.
Civilian casualties as a result of action by the NATO-led international coalition have long caused anger in Afghanistan, adding pressure on international forces to withdraw.
The international force has said avoiding civilian casualties is a high priority.
"My command's mission is to protect the civilian people of Afghanistan," Gen. Allen said last month. "I take very seriously the loss of every Afghan life. We will continue to do all we can to ensure the safety of the Afghan population."
The number of ISAF-caused civilian deaths decreased by nearly 17% from 2010 to 2011, the coalition force said in its December monthly report.
OBAMA 'DEEPLY SADDENED' BY 'SHOCKING' AFGHANISTAN SHOOTING
By David Jackson
March 11, 2012
President Obama said today he is "deeply saddened" by the "tragic and shocking" shooting deaths of Afghanistan civilians by a U.S. soldier, and vowed to hold the perpetrator accountable.
"I offer my condolences 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," Obama said in a written 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." Obama added.
The president also said he fully supports the commitment by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. John Allen "to get the facts as quickly as possible and to hold accountable anyone responsible."
Obama had been briefed earlier on the shootings of Afghanistan civilians by a U.S. service member, as military officials continue to gather facts on the incident that will probably further strain U.S.-Afghan relations.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, "we are deeply concerned by the initial reports of this incident, and are monitoring the situation closely."
The unidentified U.S. service member walked off his base in southern Afghanistan and started shooting civilians, according to villagers as well as NATO and Afghanistan officials.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said 16 people have been killed, including nine children and three women, and he has demanded a U.S. explanation for what he calls "an assassination."
The shooting occurred less than a month after the accidental burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base triggered riots by Afghans.
The killings may also increase calls for the United States military to leave Afghanistan ahead of its scheduled 2014 departure date.
Republican presidential Newt Gingrich advocated such a course this morning. Speaking on CBS' "Face The Nation," Gingrich said, "I think that we have to reassess the entire region," citing U.S. problems with neighboring Pakistan as well.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on ABC's "This Week" the U.S. should finish the mission in Afghanistan so that it does not again become a base for terrorists.
The "tragic" shooting will be investigated, and "that soldier will be held accountable for his actions under the military justice system," Graham said. "Unfortunately, these things happen in war."
WESTERN FORCES KILL 16 CIVILIANS IN AFGHANISTAN: KABUL GOVERNMENT
By Ahmad Nadem
March 11, 2012
KANDAHAR -- Western forces shot dead 16 civilians including nine children in southern Kandahar province on Sunday, Afghan officials said, in a rampage that witnesses said was carried out by American soldiers who were laughing and appeared drunk.
One Afghan father who said his children were killed in the shooting spree accused soldiers of later burning the bodies.
Witnesses told Reuters they saw a group of U.S. soldiers arrive at their village in Kandahar's Panjwayi district at around 2:00 a..m., enter homes, and open fire.
The incident, one of the worst of its kind since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, is likely to deepen the divide between Washington and Kabul.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul said an American soldier had been detained over the shooting. It added that anti-U.S. reprisals were possible following the killings, which come just weeks after U.S. soldiers burned copies of the Koran at a NATO base, triggering widespread anti-Western protests.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the rampage as "intentional murders" and demanded an explanation from the United States. His office said the dead included nine children and three women.
An Afghan minister earlier told Reuters that a lone U.S. soldier had killed up to 16 people when he burst into homes in villages near his base in the middle of the night.
Panjwayi district is about 35 km (22 miles) west of the provincial capital Kandahar city. The district is considered the spiritual home of the Taliban and is believed to be a hive of insurgent activity.
Haji Samad said 11 of his relatives were killed in one house, including his children. Pictures showed blood-splattered walls 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 a day earlier.
Neighbors said they awoke to crackling gunfire from American soldiers, whom they described as laughing and drunk.
"They were all drunk and shooting all over the place," said neighbor Agha Lala, who visited one of the homes where the incident took place. "Their bodies were riddled with bullets."
A senior U.S. defense official said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "was deeply saddened to hear last night of this incident and is closely monitoring reports out of Afghanistan." The White House also expressed concern.
The Afghan Taliban would take revenge for the deaths, the group said in an e-mailed statement to media.
U.S.-AFGHAN TIES LIKELY TO PLUNGE FURTHER
The U.S. embassy in Kabul said an investigation was under way into Sunday's shooting and that "the individual or individuals responsible for this act will be identified and brought to justice".
The commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) General John Allen said he was "shocked and saddened" by the shooting, and promised a rapid investigation.
The Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Asadullah Khalid, who is investigating the incident, said the soldier entered three homes, killing 11 people in the first one.
"The defense minister . . . is deeply shocked and saddened by the killings of 15 innocent civilians and the wounding of nine more at the hands of the coalition forces," the Defense Ministry in Kabul said in a statement.
Civilian casualties have been a major source of friction between Karzai's Western-backed government and U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The shootings could intensify friction between Washington and Kabul as NATO prepares to hand over all security responsibilities to Afghans by the end of 2014, a process which has already started.
The Koran burning and the violence that followed, including a spate of deadly attacks against U.S. soldiers, tested brittle ties between the governments of Karzai and President Barack Obama and underscored the challenges that the West faces even as it moves to withdraw.
All foreign combat troops will withdraw by end-2014 from a costly war that has become increasingly unpopular.
(Reporting by Ahmad Nadem in KANDAHAR and Hamid Shalizi in KABUL; Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman, Editing by Dean Yates)
AMERICAN IS HELD AFTER SHOOTING OF CIVILIANS IN AFGHANISTAN
By Taimoor Shah and Grahm Bowley
New York Times
March 11, 2012
PANJWAI, Afghanistan -- Stalking from home to home, a United States Army sergeant methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Aghanistan early Sunday, igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility, Afghan and American officials said.
Residents of three villages in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province described a terrifying string of attacks in which the soldier, who had walked more than a mile from his base, tried door after door, eventually breaking in to kill within three separate houses. At the first, the man gathered 11 bodies, including those of four girls younger than 6, and set fire to them, villagers said.
Coming after a period of deepening public outrage, spurred by the Koran burning by American personnel last month and an earlier video showing American Marines urinating on dead militants, the apparently unprovoked killings added to feeling of siege here among Western personnel. And officials described a growing sense of concern over a cascading series of missteps and offenses that has cast doubt on the ability of NATO personnel to carry out their mission and has left troops and trainers increasingly vulnerable to violence by Afghans seeking revenge.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, calling it in a statement an “inhuman and intentional act” and demanding justice. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta later called Mr. Karzai to express “profound regret” and assure that “this terrible incident does not reflect our shared values or the progress we have made together,” Mr. Panetta’s office said in a statement.
American officials in Kabul were scrambling to understand what had happened, and appealed for calm. Officials gave no details about the suspected killer other than to describe him as an Army staff sergeant who was acting alone. “The initial reporting that we have at this time indicates there was one shooter, and we have one man in custody,” said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a NATO spokesman.
In Panjwai, a reporter for the *New York Times* who inspected bodies that had been taken to the nearby American military base counted 16 dead, and saw burns on some of the children’s legs and heads. “All the family members were killed, the dead put in a room, and blankets were put over the corpses and they were burned,” said Anar Gul, an elderly neighbor who rushed to the house after the soldier had left. “We put out the fire.”
The villagers also brought some of the burned blankets on motorbikes to display at the base, Camp Belambay, in Kandahar, and show that the bodies had been set alight. Soon, more than 300 people had gathered outside to protest.
At least five other Afghans were wounded in the attacks, officials said, some of them seriously, indicating the death toll could rise. NATO said several casualties were being treated at a military hospital.
One of the survivors from the attack, Abdul Hadi, 40, said he was at home when a soldier broke down the door.
“My father went out to find out what was happening, and he was killed,” he said. “I was trying to go out and find out about the shooting but someone told me not to move, and I was covered by the women in my family in my room, so that is why I survived. “
Mr. Hadi said there was more than one soldier involved in the attack, and at least five other villagers described seeing a number of soldiers, and also a helicopter and flares at the scene. But that claim was unconfirmed -- other Afghan residents described seeing only one shooter -- and it was unclear whether or not extra troops sent out to the village after the attack to try to catch the suspect.
In a measure of the mounting levels of mistrust between Afghans and the coalition, however, many Afghans, including lawmakers and other officials, said they believed the attack had been planned and were incredulous that one American soldier could have carried out such an attack without help. In his statement, President Karzai said “American forces” had entered the houses in Panjwai, but at another point he said the killings were the act of an individual soldier.
Others called for calm. Abdul Hadi Arghandehwal, the minister of economy and the leader of Hezb-e Islami, a major Afghan political party with Islamist leanings, said there would likely be new protests. But he said the killings should be seen as the act of an individual and not of the United States.
“It is not the decision of the army officer to order somebody to do something like this,” he said. “Probably there are going to be many demonstrations, but it will not change the decisions of our government about our relationship with the United States.”
But elsewhere news of the killings was only spreading slowly. Other than the protest at the base in Kandahar, there were no immediate signs of the fury that fueled rioting across the country following the burning of Korans by American military personnel in February.
Both the United States Embassy in Kabul, which immediately urged caution among Americans traveling or living in Afghanistan, and the military coalition rushed to head off any further outrage, deploring the attack, offering condolences for the families and promising the soldier would be brought to justice. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, the NATO spokesman, expressed his “deep sadness” and said that while the motive for the attack was not yet clear, it looked like an isolated incident.
“I am not linking this to the recent incidents over the recent days and weeks,” he said. “It looks very much like an individual act. We have to look into the background behind it.”
Adding to the sense of concern, the killings came two days after an incident in Kapisa Province, in eastern Afghanistan, in which NATO helicopters apparently hunting Taliban insurgents instead fired on civilians, killing four and wounding another three, Afghan officials said. About 1,200 demonstrators marched in protest in Kapisa on Saturday.
The quick American move on Sunday to detain the shooter could help to avoid a repeat of last month’s unrest. The reaction to the Koran-burning incident revealed the huge cultural gap between the Americans, who saw it as an unfortunate mistake, and the Afghans, who viewed it as a crime and wanted to see those responsible tried as criminals.
But both the Afghans and Americans agreed on the severity of Sunday’s killings, and General Jacobson said the case would be aggressively pursued by American legal authorities.
Less clear, however, is the impact on ongoing tense negotiations between the United States and Afghanistan on the terms of the long-term American presence in the country. The upheaval provoked by the Koran burnings led to a near breakdown in strategic partnership talks between the Afghan and United States governments, although those negotiations appeared tentatively back on track after a deal struck Friday for the Afghans to assume control of the main coalition prison in six months.
The strategic partnership talks must still address differences over the American campaign of night raids on Afghan houses. It is unclear now what effect the latest incident will have on those talks -- especially since the attack had some similarities to the night raids carried out by coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The shootings also carried some echoes of an incident in March 2007 in eastern Afghanistan, when several Marines opened fire with automatic weapons killing as many as 19 civilians after a suicide car bomb struck the marines’ convoy, wounding one marine.
Panjwai, a rural suburb of Kandahar, was traditionally a Taliban stronghold. It was a focus of the United States military offensive in 2010 and was the scene of heavy fighting. And in recent weeks, two American soldiers were killed on the same day, on March 1, in the area by small-arms fire, and three died in a roadside bomb attack in February.
--Taimoor Shah reported from Panjwai, and Graham Bowley from Kabul. Reporting was contributed by Sharifullah Sahak, Rod Nordland, and Matthew Rosenberg from Kabul, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.
FATHER AT WINDOW SHOT IN FACE, AFGHAN WITNESS SAYS
By Ahmad Haroon
March 11, 2012
BELANDAI, Afghanistan -- Bursts of gunfire shook Jan Agha out of bed in his village in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. His father peeped nervously through a window curtain at the lane outside.
Suddenly, more shots rang out. His father was hit in the throat and the face. He died instantly.
Afghan officials say Western forces shot dead 16 civilians including nine children in southern Kandahar province on Sunday in a rampage that witnesses said was carried out by American soldiers who were laughing and appeared drunk.
Only one U.S. soldier appeared to have been involved in the shootings, a U.S. official in Washington said, but that is not what witnesses were saying.
Agha, 20, said American soldiers who had opened fire in the early hours entered the family home and waited in silence for what seemed an eternity. He lay on the floor, pretending to be dead.
"The Americans stayed in our house for a while. I was very scared," he told Reuters.
"My mother was shot in her eye and her face. She was unrecognizable. My brother was shot in the head and chest and my sister was killed, too."
Agha's account of multiple American soldiers shooting villagers could not be immediately verified.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it had detained one of its soldiers and that an investigation was under way. It said the soldier reportedly went to more than one village near his base.
President Hamid Karzai's office, however, said in a statement he had spoken by telephone to a young boy who was wounded in the shootings who described how American soldiers had entered his house and opened fire on his family.
"HORRIFIC, INHUMANE ACT"
The attack, described by the Afghan defense ministry as a "horrific, inhumane act," was one of the worst such incidents since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
It was not clear what mission the U.S. soldier or soldiers were involved in.
Reuters television footage of the aftermath of the shootings showed beefed up security in the village, which appeared to have Western forces positioned on its edges.
Civilian deaths are a major source of tension between Washington and Kabul.
The latest such killings could be especially damaging, coming just a few weeks after U.S. soldiers burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, outside a NATO base.
That incident, which NATO called a tragic blunder, triggered widespread violent protests. Afghan forces turned their weapons on American soldiers, killing six in several separate shootings.
The crisis in ties between Washington and Kabul will likely deepen once details of the rampage in Kandahar -- the Taliban heartland -- spread across a country that has grown increasingly incensed by what many Afghans see as heavy-handed U.S. tactics.
NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, promised a speedy investigation.
Another witness, Agha Lala, who is in his 40s, said he was awoken by gunfire at about 2:00 a.m.
"I watched them from a wall for a while. Then they opened fire on me. The bullets hit the wall. They were laughing. They did not seem normal. It was like they were drunk," he said.
After rushing to his home and hiding all night, Lala, who is no relation to Jan Agha, went to check on the neighbors.
"It was a slaughter. The bullet-riddled bodies were all over the room and it seemed they were burned with curtains and blankets that were torched," he said.
"Is this what the Americans call an assistance force? They are beasts and have no humanity. The Taliban are much better than them."
Blood was splattered in one house in the village and there were bullet holes in the walls.
The Koran burnings and the shootings could hinder U.S.-led efforts to pacify Afghanistan before foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014.
The United States had just made some progress in trying to reach a Strategic Partnership Agreement which would allow long-term American involvement in the country after 2014.
The two sides signed a deal on Friday on the transfer of a U.S.-run prison at Bagram airbase, where the Korans were burned, to Afghan authorities, something President Karzai had demanded.
Strategic considerations didn't figure in Haji Samad's emotions. Like other villagers, he now sees the Americans as the enemy.
Samad said he had been away when the violence hit Belandai but he realized something was wrong when he saw villagers gathered outside his home.
"I saw all 11 of my family members, including my children and grandchildren, who were killed," he said, crying. "They dropped some chemical materials on the bodies and burned them."
(Writing by Michael Georgy, editing by Dean Yates and Michael Roddy)
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