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Afghanistan mourns 16 apparently killed by U.S. soldier

Grieving, not rioting, follows the massacre in Kandahar as U.S. officials identify the attacker as a U.S. sergeant and say that justice will be served.

March 12, 2012|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

Until two years ago, the Taliban had a strong presence in Panjwayi, but a series of U.S.-led operations pushed the insurgents from longtime havens there. However, the area remains dangerous, both to U.S. troops and Afghan civilians, who often fall victim to insurgent-planted roadside bombs.

Following Islamic custom, villagers buried the victims of the massacre within hours of the attack. But mourners, including some who traveled from surrounding villages miles away, staged solemn condolence ceremonies on Monday, gathering in mosques and homes, said Sardar Mohammad Nazari, the chief of police in Panjwayi district.

Nazari said tribal elders and community leaders had called for calm, doing what they could to soothe those who were grieving. "We asked the people to show restraint, and then sent them back to their homes," he said.

The Western military promised that the slaughter of the villagers — the worst known atrocity apparently carried out deliberately by a Western soldier in more than a decade of warfare here — would not go unpunished. The suspect was being interrogated by military investigators, and a joint probe by U.S. and Afghan officials was underway.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the staff sergeant could face the death penalty if convicted.

"He went out in the morning, early morning, and went to these homes and fired on these families and then at some point after that came back to the forward operations base and basically turned himself in, told individuals what happened," Panetta said in an interview as he flew aboard a U.S. Air Force jet to Kyrgyzstan.

The soldier, who was reportedly spotted walking off the base by an Afghan soldier, had previously served three tours of duty in Iraq and was on his first posting in Afghanistan, the commander of the U.S.-led coalition, Gen. John Allen, said in an interview on CNN on Monday.

Allen, who called the killings "deeply regrettable," said the mission in Afghanistan "remains on track" and that "the relationship will only grow stronger between Afghanistan and the United States and Afghanistan and the international community."

"The important thing is that the findings will lead to appropriate legal procedures," German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's International Security Assistance Force, told reporters in Kabul. "Justice will be done."

PHOTOS: Afghanistan shooting

laura.king@latimes.com

Times staff writer David S. Cloud en route to Kyrgyzstan, special correspondent Hashmat Baktash in Kabul and a special correspondent in Kandahar contributed to this report.

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