US troops on high alert after Kandahar rampage
The Taliban said in a statement on Monday it would “take revenge from the invaders and the savage murderers for every single martyr,” AFP reports. The US is “arming lunatics in Afghanistan who turn their weapons against the defenseless Afghans,” the statement reads.
Washington hurried to offer its condolences, warning American citizens over possible retribution for the attacks.
"The US Embassy in Kabul alerts US citizens in Afghanistan that as a result of a tragic shooting incident in Kandahar province involving a US service member, there is a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days, especially in the eastern and southern provinces," the embassy said in an emergency statement on its website.
President Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to express his shock and sadness, and promised to hold whoever was responsible accountable. However, he hastened to distance the shooting from the efforts of the US contingent on the ground.
“This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military,” a message from the embassy on Twitter quote him as saying. “And the respect that the United States has for to the people of Afghanistan, who have endured too much violence and suffering.”
On Sunday, a US soldier killed 16 civilians after opening fire on them near a US military base in Kandahar. He broke into three houses and began shooting. Nine children and three women are among those killed. According to one of the villagers, the soldier acted alone and there was no fighting, adding that one of the houses raided belonged to a tribal elder.
An Afghan man sits over the dead body of a boy killed by coalition forces in Kandahar province, March 11, 2012 (Reuters / Ahmad Nadeem)
US exit from Afghanistan now at stake
The killing of 16 villagers by a US soldier in Afghanistan reignites the debates over the US exit strategy from the country and puts at stake the Strategic Partnership Agreement currently being negotiated by the two countries.
Sunday’s attack on civilians, including the killing of nine children, could deadlock the talks on US involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the last foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan. The US wants to maintain advisers there as it tries to wind down its military presence on the ground.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement, which Washington and Kabul have been discussing for over a year, was supposed to become a key part of the strategy.
"This [the attack ] could delay the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement," Reuters quotes one Afghan government official as saying on Monday.
The Kabul government wants the US and NATO to agree to stop carrying out night raids on Afghan homes as a precondition for signing an agreement. While the rules covering night raids and air strikes have been tightened, they continue to cause great resentment among many Afghans over numerous civilian deaths.
The recent Kandahar violence has further intensified anti-Western rhetoric
The deadly tragedy came just days after the two countries had overcome another obstacle in the partnership negotiations – a deal was signed on the gradual transfer of a major US-run detention centre to Afghan authorities.
But US relations with its Afghan partners have already recently plunged to an all-time low after Americans burnt the Muslim holy book on a base in Afghanistan in February. Some 30 people, including six US service members, died in the following violence that has only just begun to calm down.