Up to 16 Afghans were killed or wounded by a rogue American soldier who opened fire on civilians in southern Kandahar province, a spokesman for the provincial governor said Sunday.
“Today at around 3:00 am a U.S. soldier walked off his base and started shooting at civilians. Ten to 16 people are killed and injured,” Ahmad Jawed Faysal, a spokesman for the Kandahar governor, told AFP.
“What we know at this stage is that there have been casualties in two villages, Alokozai and Garrambai villages (in Panjwayi district),” he said.
“A delegation has been sent to find out how this has happened as well as to determine the dead and injured.”
A photographer from the Associated Press saw 15 bodies of the Afghans that villagers - some of them burned and some covered with blankets - in the villages of Alkozai and Balandi in Kandahar province’s Panjwai district. The villages are about 500 yards (meters) away from a U.S. base.
The soldier has been detained, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.
“A United States service member was detained today in connection to an incident that resulted in Afghan casualties in Kandahar province,” the ISAF statement said.
Kandahar governor Toryalai Wesa told AFP: “A member of the ISAF opened fire on people which may have also caused casualties. The person has been detained by ISAF and we will send a delegation to the area to investigate this.”
U.S. President Barack Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai “to express his shock and sadness” over the shooting.
In the phone call, Obama “extended his condolences to the people of Afghanistan, and made clear his administration’s commitment to establish the facts as quickly as possible and to hold fully accountable anyone responsible,” the White House said.
Obama had earlier issued a statement saying that “this incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assured Karzai in a phone call Sunday that a “full investigation” was under way.
The shooting comes after a series of incidents in which Afghan soldiers turned their guns on American troops, killing six, in the wake of the burning of Qurans at a military base.
But there was no word on what might have motivated the soldier’s actions.
The U.S. has a strong presence in Kandahar, the birthplace of the hardline Islamist Taliban which is waging an insurgency against the government of President Hamid Karzai.
The U.S. leads some 130,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan in defense of the Karzai government.