US official: Suspect in killings trained as sniper in USKANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, most of them children, and burning their bodies was trained as a sniper and recently suffered a head injury in Iraq, U.S. officials said Monday.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, most of them children, and burning their bodies was trained as a sniper and recently suffered a head injury in Iraq, U.S. officials said Monday.
The name of the suspect, a married, 38-year-old father of two, has not been released. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said he may face capital charges, and that the U.S. must resist pressure from Washington and Kabul to change course in Afghanistan because of anti-American outrage over the shooting.
“We seem to get tested almost every other day with challenges that test our leadership and our commitment to the mission that we're involved in,” Panetta told reporters traveling with him to Kyrgyzstan. “War is hell.”
A U.S. official said that during a recent tour of duty in Iraq, the suspect was involved in a vehicle accident and suffered a head injury. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is under investigation.
The vehicle accident was not a combat-related event, the official said. There was no available indication about the extent of the injury, or whether his injury could be linked to any abnormal behavior afterward.
Two U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the suspect had been trained as a sniper.
Sunday's attack in southern Kandahar province unfolded in two villages near a U.S. base. Villager Mohammad Zahir recounted how an American soldier burst into his home in the middle of the night, searched the rooms, then dropped to a knee and shot his father in the thigh as he emerged from a bedroom.
“He was not holding anything — not even a cup of tea,” Zahir said.
The shootings come as anti-Americanism already is boiling over in Afghanistan after U.S. troops burned Qurans last month and a video of Marines urinating on alleged Taliban corpses was posted on the Internet in January.
If the attack unleashes another wave of anti-foreigner hatred, it could threaten the future of the U.S.-led coalition's mission in Afghanistan. The events have also raised doubts among U.S. political figures that the long and costly war is worthy.
An enraged Afghan President Hamid Karzai called it “an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians” that cannot be forgiven. He demanded an explanation from Washington for the deaths, which included nine children and three women.
NATO and member countries said the slayings were a blow to the alliance's efforts to cultivate trust but would not affect the timeline to hand over security operations to Afghans by the end of 2014. The White House said U.S. objectives will not change because of the killings.
Outraged Afghan lawmakers called for a suspension of talks on how to formalize a long-term U.S. military presence in the country and demanded that the shooter face trial in an Afghan court.
The soldier, a staff sergeant who has been in the military for 11 years and served three tours in Iraq, was being held in pretrial confinement in Kandahar by the U.S. military while Army officials review his complete deployment and medical history, Pentagon officials said.
The soldier's name was not released because it would be “inappropriate” to do so before charges are filed, said Pentagon spokesman George Little.