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Massacre of 16 Civilians Spurs Calls for US Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Afghans are furious at the US military after an Army sergeant killed 16 civilians, 9 of them children.

The following is a transcript of a Democracy Now! interview with Kathy Kelly and a Kabul-based peace activist.


AMY GOODMAN: A U.S. Army sergeant is in custody after he went on a shooting spree in southern Afghanistan, killing 16 Afghan civilians, nine of them children. The massacre took place Saturday night in Zangabad village in Kandahar province. The soldier reportedly walked more than a mile from his base, breaking into three separate houses to attack families as they slept. Villagers say he then gathered 11 bodies and set them on fire, including the bodies of four girls younger than six. A reporter for the New York Times who inspected the bodies after they were taken to a nearby U.S. military base said five of the children had a single gunshot wound to the head.

Some villagers reported that more than one U.S. soldier was involved. Neighbors and relatives of the dead say they saw a group of U.S. soldiers arrive at their village at about 2:00 in the morning, enter homes and open fire. But Afghan officials and NATO officials say the killer worked alone.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said, quote, "This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven." President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Karzai Sunday to apologize. As details continue to emerge, acting American ambassador to Afghanistan, James B. Cunningham, pledged that justice would be done.

JAMES B. CUNNINGHAM: Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and their entire community. U.S. forces are providing the highest level of care for those injured. We are still attempting to ascertain the facts. The incident is under investigation, and a United States servicemember has been detained. We deplore any attack by a member of the U.S. armed forces against innocent civilians and denounce all violence against civilians. We assure the people of Afghanistan that the individual or individuals responsible for this terrible act will be identified and brought to justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Authorities say the sergeant turned himself in after the shooting and is being detained in Kandahar. They have not released his name but say he is 38 years old and married with two children. He had served three tours in Iraq and was on his first deployment in Afghanistan. Officials confirm he was attached to a unit based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, where four Lewis-McChord soldiers were convicted of killing of three Afghan civilians in 2010. Those soldiers came to be known as "the kill team."

As bodies of the victims were prepared for burial, The Guardian reports about a thousand people gathered to protest outside the Zangabad military base. The unprecedented attack comes as anti-foreign sentiment is already high, after Afghans discovered U.S. troops burning copies of the Koran at a military base. Despite official disavowal of the massacre, the incident has spawned adverse reactions. This is Kandahar resident Samiullah Khan.

SAMIULLAH KHAN: [translated] This incident will have a very negative impact on the people of Afghanistan. This kind of action will give motivation to the people to stand against foreigner forces and stage protests. This is a repeated action, and no one wants this again.

AMY GOODMAN: Since the attacks, the Taliban has threatened vengeance, and U.S. personnel in Afghanistan were warned of possible reprisal attacks.

The massacre has fueled calls for a more rapid withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. It comes as the United States and Afghanistan are negotiating the Strategic Partnership Agreement, the framework for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Afghanistan Monday to pay a surprise visit to German troops. Germany is the third largest contributor of troops to NATO’s forces there. President Obama is set to meet tomorrow with British Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss plans for Afghanistan.

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