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Taliban fires on memorial for Afghans slain by US soldier


Latest update : 2012-03-13

Taliban militants killed an Afghan soldier Tuesday when they opened fire on a memorial for 16 civilians killed Sunday by a rogue US soldier. Two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers were part of a government delegation attending the memorial.

AFP - Gunmen on Tuesday attacked an Afghan memorial service for 16 villagers killed by a US soldier, shooting dead a member of the Afghan military and wounding a policeman in a hail of gunfire.

It was the first deadly violence linked to the aftermath of Sunday's killings that the Taliban had vowed to avenge and US officials had warned could lead to a surge in anti-American violence in the war-torn country.

Two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers were in the delegation from Kabul, along with provincial government officials, a local reporter at the scene in Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar province told AFP.

"There was an armed attack on them from a distance and the firing continued for about 10 minutes," he said.

"Bullets were coming like rain on us," another witness told AFP.

The interior ministry later confirmed that one Afghan soldier died.

"One or more enemy were hiding there. When the delegation arrived they fired -- one soldier is dead and a policeman is injured," ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the Taliban had vowed revenge after a US soldier walked off his base in the early hours of Sunday, broke into three houses and killed 16 people -- mainly women and children.

The dignitaries had left the area, with some heading back to Kandahar city, about 45 kilometres (28 miles) away, while others remained to continue an investigation into Sunday's shootings, a member of the delegation said.

Sunday's massacre was the latest in a series of actions by troops that have provoked outrage in Afghanistan, and comes weeks after the burning of the Korans sparked riots that killed 40 people.

In eastern Afghanistan, about 400 university students chanting "Death to America -- Death to Obama" took to the streets of Jalalabad, in the first protest against the US army sergeant's killing spree.

The crowd set fire to the US president in effigy and blocked the main highway to Kabul before dispersing after about two hours.

In Washington, President Barack Obama warned the US public against a hasty drawdown from Afghanistan, after a weekend poll said most Americans believe the war is not worth the cost and want an early withdrawal.

"It's important for us to make sure that we get out in a responsible way, so that we don't end up having to go back in," Obama said in an interview with CBS station KDKA in Pittsburgh.

"But what we don't want to do, is to do it in a way that is just a rush for the exits," he said, stressing the need for an orderly withdrawal to get US personnel and equipment out, and to prevent Al-Qaeda rebuilding.

The United States and the rest of the 130,000-strong NATO mission in Afghanistan are scheduled to withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014 and hand over responsibility for national security to their Afghan counterparts.

The Afghan parliament and the Ulema Council, the country's highest religious authority, has demanded that the US soldier be tried in public, but the United States has said he will be subject to US military law.

Briefing reporters en route to a visit to Kyrgyzstan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the death penalty could apply. "My understanding is in these instances that could be a consideration," he said.

The US army sergeant was on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan after serving three tours in Iraq, according to US officials.

He left his forward operating base in Kandahar province and turned himself in once back at the base after his murderous rampage, officials say.

He is accused of breaking into village homes and opening fire, killing 16 people including women and children, in an incident that has further imperilled Afghan-US relations as the countries try to craft a post-2014 partnership deal.

One major sticking point is the Karzai government's refusal so far to grant legal immunity to American troops -- the same issue that scuppered a US strategic pact with Iraq.

The soldier has not been named. But officials said he is in his 30s, and that the military investigation would look into whether he may have been suffering from mental trauma.

The United States has portrayed the shootings as an isolated incident. But Karzai called them "unforgivable" and the Afghan parliament said "people are running out of patience" over the behaviour of foreign troops in the country.

The Ulema Council, the country's highest Islamic authority, called the killings "brutal, inhuman and shameful".


Date created : 2012-03-13


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