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Afghan lawmakers demand US soldier face public trial

March 12, 2012

An elderly Afghan man sits next to a covered body, who was allegedly killed by a U.S. service member, in a minibus in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, March 11. — Photo AP

KABUL: The Afghan parliament on Monday demanded that the US soldier who killed 16 villagers should be put on public trial in Afghanistan, as the shooting spree sparked a new crisis in US-Afghan relations.

The American walked off his base, heavily armed and with night vision equipment, and broke into three village homes before dawn Sunday, killing 16 people including women and children, according to Western and Afghan officials.

Some bodies bore burn marks, according to an AFP correspondent who saw them at the villages in the southern province of Kandahar. “We seriously demand and expect that the government of the United States punish the culprits and try them in a public trial before the people of Afghanistan,” the lower house of parliament said in statement.

Condemning the killings as “brutal and inhuman”, parliament declared that “people are running out of patience over the ignorance of foreign forces”.

It is the latest in a series of actions by troops that has provoked outrage in Afghanistan, and comes just weeks after the burning of Korans at a US base sparked riots that killed 40 people and plunged ties to an all-time low.

The Taliban, leading a 10-year insurgency against US-led foreign troops and the government in Kabul, threatened to take revenge against “sick-minded American savages” for every single person that was killed.

Braced for the worst, the US embassy urged its citizens in Afghanistan to take extra precautions, warning against “a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days especially in eastern and southern provinces.”

US President Barack Obama telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to promise a speedy investigation into the “shocking” killings and an American soldier is in military detention over the shootings.

Sunday's massacre poses an acute test of the US-Afghan alliance, as the two countries pursue difficult talks on securing a strategic pact to govern their partnership once foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.

Any deal would address the legal status of US troops who may remain to help prevent the country falling back into the hands of the Taliban, who were toppled in 2001 for sheltering Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“The killings in Kandahar cast a long shadow over negotiations on a strategic partnership deal and certainly give greater leverage to Karzai,” Candace Rondeaux of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

“The question of immunity for US troops remaining in the country after the end of combat operations in 2014 will come to the forefront.”Karzai reacted with anger to the killings, describing them as “unforgivable”.

He spoke by telephone with the families of those killed, including Rafihullah, a 15-year-old boy wounded in the leg who told the president the soldier had torn the dresses of the women in the house and insulted them.

Afghan resentment of US forces was also provoked in January by a video posted online showing US Marines urinating on the bloodied corpses of slain Afghan insurgents — an incident condemned by the Pentagon.