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Afghan president says US service member kills 16 people including 9 children, 3 women
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) ' Afghan President Hamid Karzai says a U.S. service member has killed 16 people in a shooting including nine children and three women.
Karzai called the attack Sunday "an assassination" and demanded an explanation from the United States.
He says five people were also wounded in the attack on two villages near a U.S. base in the southern province of Kandahar.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BALANDI, Afghanistan (AP) ' A U.S. service member walked out of a base in southern Afghanistan before dawn Sunday and started shooting Afghan civilians, according to residents and Afghan and NATO officials. Villagers showed an Associated Press photographer 15 bodies, including women and children, and said they were all killed by the American.
The shooting could deepen strife between U.S. forces and their Afghan hosts just as weeks of violence set off by the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. base had started to die down. The burnings sparked violent protests and attacks that killed some 30 people. Six U.S. service members have been killed in attacks by their Afghan colleagues since the Quran burnings came to light.
NATO officials apologized for Sunday's shootings but did not confirm that anyone was killed, referring instead to reports of deaths.
"I wish to convey my profound regrets and dismay at the actions apparently taken by one coalition member in Kandahar province, said a statement from Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, the deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"One of our soldiers is reported to have killed and injured a number of civilians in villages adjacent to his base. I cannot explain the motivation behind such callous acts, but they were in no way part of authorized ISAF military activity," he said, using the abbreviation for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
An AP photographer saw 15 bodies between the two villages caught up in the shooting. Some of the bodies had been burned, while others were covered with blankets. A young boy partially wrapped in a blanket was in the back of a minibus, dried blood crusted on his face and pooled in his ear. His loose-fitting brown pants were partly burned, revealing a leg charred by fire.
Villagers packed inside the minibus looked on with concern as a woman spoke to reporters. She pulled back a blanket to reveal the body of a smaller child wearing what appeared to be red pajamas. A third dead child lay amid a pile of green blankets in the bed of a truck.
Afghan officials and residents said 16 people were killed, but there was no way to immediately reconcile the death tolls.
NATO spokesman Justin Brockhoff said a U.S. service member had been detained at a NATO base as the alleged shooter. The casualties were evacuated to NATO medical facilities, he added.
The attack took place in two villages in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province. The villages ' Balandi and Alkozai ' are about 500 yards (meters) away from a U.S. base. The shooting started around 3 a.m., said Asadullah Khalid, the government representative for southern Afghanistan and a member of the delegation that went to investigate the incident.
A resident of the village of Alkozai, Abdul Baqi, told the AP that, based on accounts of his neighbors, the American gunman went into three different houses and opened fire.
"When it was happening in the middle of the night, we were inside our houses. I heard gunshots and then silence and then gunshots again," Baqi said. There was no immediate verification of his account.
Helicopters were circling overhead as a delegation from the Kandahar province Gov. Tooryalai Wesa's office arrived in the area to determine exactly what happened. There were reports of protests in Panjwai following the shooting and the U.S. embassy warned travelers in Kandahar province to "exercise caution."
International forces have fought for control of Panjwai for years as they've tried to subdue the Taliban in their rural strongholds. The Taliban movement started just to the north of Panjwai and the district was seen as key to securing Kandahar city to east when U.S. forces flooded the province as part of President Barack Obama's strategy to surge in the south starting in 2009.
Khalid, the government representative, said he had tallied 16 dead, a number that matched accounts from villagers.
Twelve of the dead were from Balandi, said Samad Khan, a farmer who lost all 11 members of his family, including women and children. Khan was away from the village when the incident occurred and returned to find his family members shot and burned. One of his neighbors was also killed, he said.
"This is an anti-human and anti-Islamic act," said Khan. "Nobody is allowed in any religion in the world to kill children and women."
Khan demanded that Afghan President Hamid Karzai punish the American shooter.
"Otherwise we will make a decision," said Khan. "He should be handed over to us."
Residents in Alkozai village also demanded that Karzai punish the American or hand him over to the villagers. The four people killed in the village were all from one family, said a female relative who was shouting in anger. She did not give her name because of the conservative nature of local society.
"No Taliban were here. No gunbattle was going on," said the woman. "We don't know why this foreign soldier came and killed our innocent family members. Either he was drunk or he was enjoying killing civilians."
The Taliban called the shootings the latest sign that international forces are working against the Afghan people.
"The so-called American peace keepers have once again quenched their thirst with the blood of innocent Afghan civilians in Kandahar province," The Taliban said in a statement posted on a website used by the insurgent group.
U.S. forces have been implicated in other violence in the same area.
Four soldiers from a Stryker brigade out of Lewis-McChord, Washington, have been sent to prison in connection with the 2010 killings of three unarmed men during patrols in Kandahar province's Maiwand district, which is just northwest of Panjwai. They were accused of forming a "kill team" that murdered Afghan civilians for sport ' slaughtering victims with grenades and powerful machine guns during patrols, then dropping weapons near their bodies to make them appear to have been combatants.
And in January, before the Quran burning incident, a video that purportedly showed U.S. Marines urinated on corpses of men they had killed sparked widespread outrage.
President Barack Obama has apologized for the Quran burnings and said they were a mistake.
Vogt reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press writers Sebastian Abbot and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report in Kabul. AP photographer Allauddin Khan contributed from Balandi.