(ISLAMABAD, Pakistan) — In an untimely blow to U.S.-Afghan relations, a U.S. soldier left his base in Kandahar in the middle of the night, walked to a nearby residential area and opened fire, allegedly killing up to 16 Afghan civilians.
Nine of the victims were children, and three were women, all shot while they slept in their beds, according to villagers and the Afghan president’s office.
U.S. officials were quick to condemn the attack.
“I offer my profound regret and deepest condolences to the victims and their families,” Gen. John Allen, head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
“This deeply appalling incident in no way represents the values of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and coalition troops or the abiding respect we feel for the Afghan people.”
After the alleged shooting spree, it’s believed the soldier returned to the base on his own, and calmly turned himself in. He remains in NATO custody. It’s unclear whether the soldier knew the victims or whether the alleged attack was spontaneous and unprovoked. It’s also unknown whether he had any accomplices.
The shooting took place at 3 a.m. in two villages in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province, a hotbed for the Taliban insurgency against U.S .forces. The two villages are a short walk away from the U.S. base where the soldier was stationed.
Photos from the scene show blood-splattered floors and walls inside a villagers home, one of three believed to have been attached, and blood-soaked bodies of victims, including the elderly and young children, wrapped in blankets and placed in the backseat of a van. Some of the bodies appear to have been burned.
NATO has launched its own investigation, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sent his own delegation to Kandahar for its own inquiry.
The shooting is certain to further strain U.S.-Afghan relations, already suffering from weeks of mistrust after U.S. forces burned Korans and other religious materials at a detention centre near Kabul. U.S. officials, including Gen. Allen and Barack Obama apologized for the incident, insisting it was done unintentionally, but it led to deadly riots in many cities and towns, leaving at least 30 Afghans dead.
Six U.S. soldiers were also killed, all by members of Afghanistan’s national security forces, in alleged revenge attacks.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ivana Kottasova, CNN
Sugam Pokharel and AJ Willingham, CNN