An American army sergeant allegedly went on a house-to-house shooting rampage in Kandahar province, killing 16 Afghan civilians — including as many as nine children — on Sunday. The killings took place in the Panjway district, about 15 miles southwest of Kandahar.
The Taliban has vowed revenge for the massacre, which comes weeks after the burning of copies of the Quran on a NATO military base triggered deadly protests. US-led forces in Afghanistan have consequently stepped up security.
Follow this live blog for the latest news, commentaries, videos and coverage of the incident and its aftermath.
UPDATE: 3/12/12 5:00 PM ET Burying the dead
The families of the shooting victims in the small village southwest of Kandahar buried the bodies of the 16 men, women and children who were killed in their homes, while local authorities urged them not to attack the nearby American military base, according to Bloomberg.
"If the US and Afghan governments do not prosecute this soldier, the Afghan people will protest, and some may attack that base," said Agha Lalai Dastgiri, a village elder from the Alokozay section of Zangabad, one of the villages that was attacked.
UPDATE: 3/12/12 4:30 PM ET Costs of war
The Atlantic explored the reactions to the shooting: first, the condemnations of the shooter's actions, and second, the exploration of the circumstances that led him to those actions. The lessons to be learned from this incident include that "soldiers are stretched too thin, the war is exacting a significant cost on them, and perhaps we should consider whether it's worth those costs."
Also highlighting the plight of Afghans, The Atlantic said some of them "have been living with almost unbroken violence for now 33 years. In a place where mothers are young and life expectancy is 45 years, those three decades of war are an entire generation, maybe two." Perhaps, it said, incidents such as this are the psychological by-product of years of violence, on both sides of the conflict.
UPDATE: 3/12/12 4:10 PM ET New evidence
Residents of the Panjway district showed little resistance to the shooter because "they have become used to regular night raids by both foreign and Afghan forces," said Al Jazeera. Abdul Rahim Ayoubi, a member of parliament from Kandahar, said, "Earlier in the night, there had been helicopters hovering over the district, and people had prepared for night raids - for their houses to be searched."
Haji Agha Lalai Dastagiri, a member of President Karzai's investigating team, said, "From [the shooter's] footprints, we could tell he had tried to kick open the gates of many houses, but had failed. He had finally found one gate open."
The details still emerging from the case are conflicting and muddled, with rumors floating in Afghanistan that there could have been more than one shooter, but Dastagiri said the soldier had acted alone and was apprehended when he returned to base alone.
Ayoubi, the member of parliament, said, "I asked the elders here, why no demonstrations, no outcry? They say they are silent because they want to deliberate their moves, they want to decide. And once they decide, there will be no army, no force that can stop them."
UPDATE: 3/12/12 3:45 PM ET Anger and outrage, but little protest
The GlobalPost's Jean MacKenzie noted that the dearth of protests against the latest killings are an indicator of how badly the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. The country has suffered so many civilian casualties in recent years that Afghans "resign themselves to the horrors of war."
Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security project, a nonprofit, bi-partisan public policy and research institute based in Washington, DC, said, "Afghans protest when something is shocking and surprising. But this is something that they are used to and expect. They consider all civilian deaths criminal. This is just more of the same."
"Americans’ view of the war has been so sanitized and euphemized by the mainstream media that we really don’t know what is going on," said Foust. "This might change that."
UPDATE: 3/12/12 3:30 PM ET Afghan civilian casualties
The Guardian reported that the latest statistics from the United Nations reveal that civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2011 were at their highest since the invasion. Over the past six years, 12,793 civilians have been killed, and the figures for 2011 show an eight percent increase over those for 2010.
The Taliban and other anti-government groups were to blame for 2,332 of the 3,021 civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2011, while NATO and government forces were responsible for 410 civilian deaths and 335 injuries. A majority of civilian deaths were caused by explosions.
UPDATE: 3/12/12 3:10 PM ET Shooter's actions were "crazy"
The atmosphere in Afghanistan puts immense pressure on troops, an Army psychiatrist recently returned from duty told TIME. "If the soldier was going out on patrol, he probably was attacked pretty much every day. If he stayed on the FOB [Forward Operating Base], he was probably being shelled regularly," the psychiatrist who wished to remain anonymous said. "No one would leave their post unaccompanied at night in that part of Afghanistan, and to do so indicates instability. It suggests someone is highly irrational."
The Army's former top psychiatrist, Elspeth Ritchie, concurred, saying, "That the soldier purportedly left the base alone in the early morning hours in a lethal combat zone, killed unarmed women and children, burned the bodies, and then returned to the base, suggests to me a psychotic process. This is crazy — no one in their right mind would do this."
UPDATE: 3/12/12 3:00 PM ET Another eyewitness account
Mohammad Zahir, a 26-year-old witness to the US soldier's shooting rampage that claimed his father's life, spoke to the Associated Press. Zahir said, "I heard a gunshot. When I came out of my room, somebody entered our house. He was in a NATO forces uniform. I didn't see his face because it was dark," recounting details of the night before.
"After that, I saw him moving to different areas of the house — like he was searching," said Zahir, recalling how his father came out of another room, unarmed. "He was on his knees when he shot my father," Zahir said, after which Zahir and his mother tended to his wounded father. Zahir continued to hear gunshots after the shooter left his house.
UPDATE: 3/12/12 2:30 PM ET Graphic images and video spread Afghan rage
The New York Times linked to a video posted by local news agency Pajhwok Afghan News, stating that images from the shooting have begun circulating among Afghan blogging and social networking sites, sparking outrage.
Afghan television channels also circulated the images, as the 16 bodies were taken to a nearby American military base.
The Times said, "Five of the dead children had single gunshot wounds to the head and some bore the scars of burning."
CAUTION: The video of the victims' bodies contains graphic imagery. Footage courtesy of Pajhwok Afghan News.
UPDATE: 3/12/12 2:15 PM ET Secretary of State Clinton responds
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "I was shocked and saddened by the killings of innocent Afghan villagers," according to Reuters. She reaffirmed America's commitment to holding those responsible accountable.
Clinton said, "This terrible incident does not change our steadfast dedication to protecting the Afghan people and to doing everything we can to help build a strong and stable Afghanistan."
Clinton echoed the sentiments of the Obama administration which has signaled that this incident will not drastically impact the strategy or timeline of America's involvement in Afghanistan. White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters today, "The focus of our overall strategy is not in reaction to a single event," according to Reuters.
UPDATE: 3/12/12 2:00 PM ET Afghan civilians lose patience
The Afghan parliament has passed a resolution stating that, "The Wolesi Jirga [parliament] announces that once again Afghans have run out of patience with the arbitrary actions of foreign forces," according to Al Jazeera.
It also called for the US soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians to face public trial in Afghanistan, according to the BBC.
Tensions were already high in the preceding weeks, with violent protests breaking out over the inadvertent burning of Qurans at the NATO airbase at Bagram. Recent incidents also included six US soldiers being shot dead, a suicide car bombing at Bagram airbase and six British soldiers dying in explosion in Helmand.
Here is a video report from the ground in Afghanistan, courtesy of Al Jazeera:
UPDATE: 3/12/12 1:10 PM ET No change in Afghan mission
NATO and the Pentagon have said the shooting will not change their war strategy or timeline in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press and CNN.
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu, while calling for a swift and thorough investigation into the shooting, labeled it an "isolated incident," saying it would not affect the alliance's plans to turn over security operations to Afghan locals by the end of 2014, reported the AP.
"This is clearly a tragedy, but it should not be allowed in any way to change the mission, and it doesn't change our commitment to the mission and to the timetable," she said.
The Pentagon also called the incident "isolated," with Pentagon spokesman George Little saying there would be no change in their fundamental strategy. He also confirmed that the soldier will not be tried in the Afghan justice system, saying, "The US military has strong means to address wrongdoing. There is an agreement in place with the government of Afghanistan, so that the investigation – and when appropriate, prosecution – will be done through US military channels," according to CNN.
UPDATE: 3/12/12 12:50 PM ET The soldier's psychological profile
Military investigators are interviewing the 38-year-old staff sergeant who went on a shooting rampage, while it remains unclear whether there was a mental illness or a psychotic break behind his actions. Mental health experts not connected with the case spoke to ABC News, speculating that there are usually warning signs before the outburst of violence in cases such as this.
Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, said, "This could have been signaled by erratic and changed behavior in the soldier including strange or unusual behavior, insomnia, weight loss, talking nonsensically or incoherently, making threatening statements and using drugs. Rarely do such incidents of extreme behavior occur without some preceding signs."
Dr. Bengt Arnetz, professor of occupational and environmental medicine at Wayne State University, said that even the presence of warning signs may not have been enough as the military's current system is inadequate at detecting them. "I think that they're very, very bad at monitoring people close to the breaking point. We don't have good surveillance tools."
UPDATE: 3/12/12 12:30 PM ET Reactions from the UK
UK Prime Minister David Cameron called the shootings "absolutely dreadful" saying, "one's heart just goes out to those families in Kandahar who've suffered these appalling losses," according to the BBC.
While recognizing the impact this incident would have on the International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan, Cameron reaffirmed the importance of their mission, saying, "It is worth remembering why we are in Afghanistan. We're there to train up the Afghan army and police so that that country is able to look after its own security and make sure that country isn't a haven for terrorists without having foreign troops on its soil."
UPDATE: 3/12/12 12:15 PM ET Eyewitness account
President Hamid Karzai spoke with the families of the victims on the phone, including 15-year-old Rafihullah who was wounded in the leg. During the conversation, obtained by AFP, Rafihullah recounted how the shooter "came to my uncle's home, he was running after women, he was tearing their dresses, insulting them."
Rafihullah continued, "He killed my uncle and killed our servant and killed my grandma, he shot dead my uncle's son, his daughter."
Here is a video report on the incident from ABC News, as it unfolded. The 38-year-old staff sergeant, reportedly a father of two himself, wore night vision goggles to aid in his rampage.
UPDATE: 3/12/12 12:00 PM ET Weary of war
This latest incident has forced the Obama administration to confront the weariness of the American public when it comes to the Afghan war. According to a new poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, 55 percent of Americans believe that most Afghans are opposed to what US troops are trying to accomplish in Afghanistan. Around 54 percent want the American military to withdraw, even before it can train the Afghan army to be self-sufficient.
So far, the Obama administration has signaled its commitment to partnering with Afghan President Karzai's government, giving no hint that it is reconsidering its strategy.
UPDATE: 3/12/12 11:00 AM ET Reactions from Kabul
Al Jazeera's Ali Latifi patrolled the streets of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, Sunday, asking people for their reactions to the shootings.
"Every time these events occur, [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai says Afghanistan must be in control [of the nation], but they just continue to follow," a cab driver, Sayed Yousef said.
"I would imagine that the shooter had an illness, like the Afghan who killed several people in the airport. If he was healthy, he should be held responsible. He won't be though, people like him never are."
UPDATE: 3/12/12 10:30 AM ET Taliban vow revenge