The Taliban have vowed to avenge the deaths of 16 civilians in Afghanistan, allegedly shot by a U.S. soldier in a rampage through villages near Kandahar.
According to The Associated Press, the Afghan militia on its website called the attack a "blood-soaked and inhumane crime" and the attackers "sick-minded American savages." It promised to seek revenge "for every single martyr with the help of Allah."
A single soldier, identified as an Army staff sergeant, had surrendered to authorities in connection with Sunday's killings, according to U.S. officials, but village elders in the rural Panjwai district, the site of the slayings, told NPR that more than one American soldier was involved in attacks in separate hamlets.
"One was a quarter of a mile outside the American base and the other in a hamlet about a mile away," NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Kabul. "In the first village, about 11 people died in one family, most of them young children in one house. Their bodies were apparently gathered up under some blankets, which were then set alight."
U.S. officials say no official combat operations were taking place in the region at the time of the killings, but Lawrence says they "admit that it's still an open question whether other soldiers might have been involved."
According to the AP:
Some villagers also told officials there were multiple soldiers and heard shooting from different directions. But many others said they only saw a single soldier.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings said Monday that "there's no indication that there was more than one shooter." He said the number of dead was "in the teens."
Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense said Monday that first reports indicate a single soldier was responsible for the attacks, but did not close off the possibility that more were involved.
The alleged attacks come weeks after deadly protests spurred by U.S. troops burning copies of the Quran. In the same region of the country, it also follows a 2010 incident involving a group of U.S. soldiers who had been shooting Afghan civilians for sport.
NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, says the soldier in custody was on his first tour in Afghanistan but had done several tours in Iraq. He is 38, married, with two children and is with a unit based at Ft. Lewis, Wash., that was supporting U.S. Special Forces around Kandahar.
So far, authorities have no possible motive for the killings, Bowman says, but he emphasizes that the intentional killing of civilians by U.S. soldiers has been very rare in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We've seen some instances over the years of crimes being committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq with maybe a handful of civilians dead, but nothing of this magnitude," Bowman says.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll, released Sunday, shows that a majority of Americans appear to be fed up with the war in Afghanistan. Some 55 percent of respondents said that most Afghans oppose U.S. initiatives there and 60 percent said they felt that the war was "not worth fighting."
Update at 2:01 p.m. ET. This Doesn't Change U.S. Strategy:
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters this incident will not change U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
"The focus of our overall strategy is not in reaction to a single event," Carney told reporters during a briefing. "I do not believe that this incident will change the timetable of a strategy that was designed and is being implemented in a way to allow for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, to allow for the transfer of lead security authority over to the Afghans."
Update at 12:50 p.m. ET. The Reaction In Kandahar:
As reporters make their way to Kandahar, we're getting a picture of growing anger, resentment and as The New York Times puts it "loathing" toward the United States.
Here's a bit from Reuters who spoke to a few residents:
"'We have benefited little from the foreign troops here but lost everything - our lives, dignity and our country to them,' said Haji Najiq, a Kandahar shop owner. 'The explanation or apologies will not bring back the dead. It is better for them to leave us alone and let us live in peace.'
"Anti-Americanism, which boiled over after copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, were inadvertently burned at a NATO base last month is likely to deepen after the Kandahar carnage.
"'The Americans said they will leave in 2014. They should leave now so we can live in peace,' said Mohammad Fahim, 19, a university student. 'Even if the Taliban return to power our elders can work things out with them. The Americans are disrespectful.'
"'The Americans are not here to assist us they are here to kill us,' said Najibullah, 33, a house painter in Kabul.
"'I hate the Americans and I hate anyone who loves them, so I hope there is no long-term partnership between our countries.'"