This bloody story out of Afghanistan constitutes a tragedy that is sure to aggravate U.S.-Afghanistan tensions as the U.S. winds up its operations there. An American soldier murdered 16 Afghan civiliansl, 9 of them children:
A US soldier in Afghanistan has killed at least 16 civilians and wounded five after entering their homes in Kandahar province, senior local officials say.
He left his military base in the early hours of the morning and opened fire in at least two homes; women and children were among the dead.
Nato said it was investigating the “deeply regrettable incident”.
Anti-US sentiment is already high in Afghanistan after US soldiers burnt copies of the Koran last month.
US officials have apologised repeatedly for the incident at a Nato base in Kabul, but they failed to quell a series of protests and attacks that killed at least 30 people and six US troops.
Local people have reportedly gathered near the base in Panjwai district to protest about Sunday’s killings, and the US embassy is advising against travel to the area.
Lt Gen Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander of Nato-led forces, said he was unable to “explain the motivation behind such callous acts”, adding that “our thoughts and prayers are with those caught in this tragedy”.
The soldier has not been named, but is thought to be a staff sergeant.
The officials gave no details about the suspected killer other than to describe him as an Army staff sergeant who was acting alone and who had surrendered himself for arrest. “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.
A senior American military official said Sunday evening that the sergeant was attached to a unit based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Wash., and that he had been part of what is called a village stabilization operation in Afghanistan. In those operations, teams of Green Berets, supported by other soldiers, try to develop close ties with village elders, organize local police units and track down Taliban leaders. The official said the sergeant was not a Green Beret himself, and had been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan at least once before his current tour of duty.
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 Gula, 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.
Apart from the furor these murders will cause in Afghanistan, this happens at a time when a poll finds most Americans want the United States out of there:
Sixty percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been not worth fighting and just 30 percent believe the Afghan public supports the U.S. mission there — marking the sour state of attitudes on the war even before the shooting rampage allegedly by a U.S. soldier this weekend.
Indeed a majority in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 54 percent, say the United States should withdraw its forces from Afghanistan without completing its current effort to train Afghan forces to become self-sufficient.
The survey was completed Saturday. Early Sunday a U.S. service member allegedly left his base in Kandahar and shot and killed more than a dozen civilians in two nearby villages, an incident certain to raise tensions already inflamed by the U.S. military’s inadvertent burning of Muslim holy books at Bagram Air Base last month. That incident sparked violent protests, including a series of incidents in which Afghan soldiers have turned their guns on U.S. forces.
Against that backdrop, the number of Americans who say the war has not been worth fighting, at 60 percent, is up by 6 points from its level last June to just 4 points from its peak, 64 percent, a year ago. Intensity of sentiment is deeply negative: Forty-four percent feel “strongly” that the war has not been worth fighting. Just 17 percent, by contrast, support it strongly.
Criticism of the war had been assuaged to some extent last year by the drawdown of U.S. forces, a step backed by 78 percent of Americans in an ABC/Post poll last month. Taking another tack, this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, asked if the United States should keep its forces in Afghanistan until it has trained the Afghan Army to be self-sufficient, or withdraw even without accomplishing that task. Given those competing interests, 43 percent favor completing the training effort; 54 percent, as noted, opt for withdrawal regardless.
While the war lacks majority support on the basis of a cost-benefit evaluation for the United States, support is further eroded by the fact that 55 percent of Americans think most Afghans themselves do not support U.S. efforts in their country, and an additional 15 percent are unsure. Just three in 10 think the U.S. mission enjoys majority support.
So expect there to be a true example of consensus:
Afghanistan’s citizens increasingly want the U.S. to leave. And so do many Americans. This latest tragedy sparks emotions that will strengthen those sentiments.