Shooting highlights growing ·anti-Western sentiment

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN, Mar 12: US officials today warned of possible reprisal attacks after 16 Afghan villagers, mostly children and women, were killed in a likely ‘rogue’ shooting by a US soldier that weakens the West’s tenuous grip on a decade-old war.

Washington has rushed to distance the shootings, blamed on a lone US soldier, from the efforts of the 90,000-strong US force in Afghanistan, but the rampage in southern Kandahar province is certain to inflame anti-Western anger once again.

It comes less than three weeks after US troops inadvertently burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, at the main NATO base in Afghanistan, sparking widespread protests in which 30 people were killed.

‘The US Embassy in Kabul alerts US citizens in Afghanistan that as a result of a tragic shooting incident in Kandahar province involving a US service member, there is a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days, especially in the eastern and southern provinces,’ the embassy said in an emergency statement on its website.

Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, toppled by US-backed forces in late 2001. Southern and eastern provinces have seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war, increasingly unpopular among Americans and their European allies.

Early today, the embassy said on its Twitter feed restrictions had been placed on the movements of all embassy personnel in the south.

A sharp increase in attacks on US troops by Afghan forces followed the Koran burning. Sunday’s incident in Kandahar was one of the worst of its kind, witnesses describing it as a ‘night-time massacre’ that killed nine children and three women.

Villagers in three houses were attacked and many civilians were wounded, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

Officials from the US Embassy, ISAF and from Washington said it appeared there was only one. An ISAF spokesman said the lone US soldier ‘walked back to the base and turned himself in to US forces this morning’, adding there had been no military operations in the area.

The soldier in custody was described by one US official in Washington as a staff sergeant who was married with three children. The sergeant had served three tours in Iraq but was on his first deployment in Afghanistan, the official said.

Neighbours and relatives of the dead said they saw a group of US soldiers arrive at their village in Panjwai district, about 35 km from the provincial capital Kandahar City, at about 2 a.M. They said the soldiers entered homes and opened fire.

However, Afghan Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Asadullah Khalid said a US soldier burst into three homes near his base in the middle of the night, killing a total of 16 people, including 11 people in the first house.

Villager Haji Samad said his children and grandchildren were among 11 relatives killed.

‘They (Americans) poured chemicals over their dead bodies and burned them,’ a weeping Samad told Reuters at the scene, with blood splattered on the walls of his home.

Neighbours said they had awoken to crackling gunfire from American soldiers, who they described as laughing and drunk.

‘Their bodies were riddled with bullets,’ said Agha Lala, who visited one of the homes where the killings took place.

A senior US defence official in Washington rejected such accounts. ‘Based on the preliminary information we have this account is flatly wrong,’ the official said. ‘We believe one US service member acted alone, not a group of US soldiers.’

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also called Karzai to offer his condolences. ‘I condemn such violence and am shocked and saddened that a US service member is alleged to be involved, clearly acting outside his chain of command,’ Panetta said.

(agencies)

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