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Soldier Kills Afghans

March 14, 2012 by staff 

Soldier Kills Afghans, Moving from house to house, a U.S. Army soldier opened fire Sunday on Afghan villagers as they slept, killing 16 people — mostly women and children — in an attack that reignited fury at the U.S. presence after a wave of deadly protests over Americans burning Qurans.

The attack threatened to cause the deepest breach yet in U.S.-Afghan relations, raising questions in Washington and Kabul about why American troops are still fighting in Afghanistan after 10 years of conflict and the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The killing spree, the worst atrocity committed by U.S. forces during the Afghan war, occurred amid deepening public outrage spurred by last month’s Quran burnings and an earlier video purportedly showing American Marines urinating on dead Taliban militants.

The Quran burnings sparked weeks of violent protests and attacks that left about 30 Afghans dead, despite an apology from President Barack Obama. Six U.S. service members were also killed by their fellow Afghan soldiers, although the tensions had just started to calm down.

According to U.S. and Afghan officials, Sunday’s attack began around 3 a.m. in two villages in Panjwai district, a rural region outside Kandahar that is the cradle of the Taliban and is where coalition forces have fought for control for years. The villages are about 500 yards from a U.S. base.

Villagers described cowering in fear when gunshots rang out as a soldier stalked house after house, firing on those inside. They said he entered three homes and set fire to some of the bodies. Eleven of the dead were from a single family, and nine victims were children.

U.S. officials said the shooter, identified as an Army staff sergeant, acted alone, leaving his base in southern Afghanistan. Initial reports indicated he returned to the base after the shooting and turned himself in. He was in custody at a NATO base in Afghanistan.

The suspect, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., was assigned to support a special operations unit of either Green Berets or Navy SEALs engaged in a village stability operation, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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