x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Taliban vow revenge for killing of villagers

Afghan lawmakers want the soldier, and anyone else involved, tried in Afghan courts.

KABUL // The Taliban vowed revenge yesterday for an “inhumane attack” in which an American soldiery shot dead 16 civilians, mostly women and children, in southern Afghanistan and torched their bodies.

The assault – the worst such incident in a decade of war – has fuelled public anger still simmering after US troops burnt Qurans last month.

US-led forces in Afghanistan have stepped up security following the shootings Sunday in Kandahar province out of concern about retaliatory attacks. The US Embassy has also warned American citizens in Afghanistan about the possibility of reprisals.

There were no immediate signs of reprisals yesterday, but provincial officials in Kandahar, when the killings took place, said they would be powerless to stop people taking to the streets to vent their anger.

The US military says one soldier, a sergeant, is in custody over the deaths and will face a military investigation.

But Afghan lawmakers want the man, and anyone else involved, tried in Afghan courts, not by US court martial.

Parliament cancelled its scheduled session yesterday and it issued a resolution for the case to be heard under Afghan law.

“Some lawmakers said if this does not then people will be forced to join a general uprising [against US troops],” Abdul Qadir

Qalatwal, a member of parliament, said.

“People are furious and shocked and have the full right to be so,” he said.

“We saw the image of a dead two year-old boy and were deeply saddened. “Such an act had never happened in our history.”

The US president, Barack Obama, and the military have apologised for the incident.

The anger over the burning of the Qurans sparked violent protests in which dozens of Afghans died and six US soldiers were killed by their Afghan comrades.

The military says one of its soldiers, who has not been named, walked out of the base in Panjwai district near Kandahar city, the provincial capital. and fired on civilians in two nearby villages – one just 500 metres from the base.

The US has not given a motive for the killings. It said the soldier returned to the base after the incident.

The Taliban said in a statement on their website that “sick-minded American savages” committed the “blood-soaked and inhumane crime”.

The militant group promised the families of the victims that it would take revenge “for every single martyr with the help of Allah”.

But the incident raises many questions for some Afghans.

Soldiers are forbidden from leaving their bases unaccompanied. And some locals question how the sustained shootings could have occurred so close to the base without a response from the US forces there.

There is also speculation he did not act alone.

“People are sceptical. We heard from some people that a group of soldiers had come in vehicles and did the shootings,” the head of the Kandahar provincial council, Haji Lalai, said by telephone from the city.

On Sunday, a government team visited the two villages and said 16 people, including women and children, were killed.

Villagers told the team the killings were conducted by a group of soldiers, not just one.

“It is not possible for only one American soldier to come out of his base, kill a number of people far away, burn the bodies, go to another house and kill civilians there, then walk at least 2 kilometres and enter another house, kill civilians and burn them,” said one local lawmaker.

A second, high level, investigation team was due to visit yesterday,

“This tragic incident will further increase the pessimism of the people not only towards the American forces, but also for Nato troops in general in Afghanistan,” Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, a former prime minister, told a local newspaper.

“People will not easily forget this and this will have a big impact on the long-term US military presence in Afghanistan.”

Kate Clark, a senior analyst with Afghan Analyst Network, said the killings will add to the problems of President Hamid Karzai’s government, already seen as weak, corrupt and a US puppet by many Afghans.

“These sorts of incidents are actually much more difficult for the Afghan government than the Taliban to deal with,” she said.

“The Taliban, we know where they stand on the Americans: they are the enemy.

“But for the Afghan government, it can be more tricky as to how to play this because these were murders committed by the military forces of

their main allies.”

The incident may derail efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table to end the fighting, she said.

It could also jeopardise negotiations to keep US combat troops and bases in Afghanistan beyond the main 2014 pullout of all foreign troops.

A spokesman for the US military in Washington said questions about details of the incident would be answered by an investigation “that is still continuing”. The US Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) is leading that investigation.

The shootings have also prompted a new round of soul searching in Washington, where politicians from both parties are beginning to weary of the Afghanistan war.

Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential hopeful, told NBC yesterday “we have to either make a decision to make a full commitment, which this president has not done, or we have to decide to get out and probably get out sooner” than 2014.

Newt Gingrich, another presidential hopeful, told Fox News there was something “substantially wrong” with the US approach in Afghanistan.

“I think that we’re risking the lives of young men and women in a mission that may, frankly, not be doable,” he said.

But some, mostly leading Republicans, called for patience. John McCain, a senator and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, told Fox News on Sunday that while he understood the frustration, “if Afghanistan dissolves into a situation where the Taliban were able to take over a chaotic situation, it could easily return to an Al Qaeda base for attacks on the United States of America”.

* Additional reporting by Omar Karmi in Washington