Afghan official: Video shows soldier surrendering

AP , Wednesday 14 Mar 2012

An Afghan official says footage provided by US authorities shows the surrender of the soldier who killed 16 civilians, asks for more amidst claims there were more shooters

Afghan villagers listen to a speech by an Afghan official, unseen, part of a delegation during prayer ceremony for the victims of Sunday's killing of civilians by a US soldier in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, (Photo: AP).

The US soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers on a rampage was caught on surveillance video that showed him walking up to his base, laying down his weapon and raising his arms in surrender, according to an Afghan official who viewed the footage.

The official said Wednesday there were also two to three hours of video footage covering the time of the attack that Afghan investigators are trying to get from the US military. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

US authorities showed their Afghan counterparts the video of the surrender to prove that only one perpetrator was involved in Sunday's shootings, the official said. The shootings, which claimed the lives of nine children among the 16 dead, has further strained already shaky relations between the US and Afghanistan.

Some Afghan officials and residents in the villages that were attacked have insisted there was more than one shooter. If this disagreement persists, it could deepen the distrust even more.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in the country Wednesday, the first senior American official to visit since the killings. He and other American officials have said the tragedy should not derail the US and NATO strategy of a gradual withdrawal of most troops by the end of 2014. But the shooting spree has fueled calls in both countries for foreign troops to leave more quickly.

It has also complicated already tense negotiations between the two nations over an agreement governing the presence American troops after 2014.

A member of an Afghan government delegation investigating the killings said Wednesday that the group has concluded they were carried out by more than one soldier. Parliament member Sayeed Ishaq Gilani said the delegation had heard from villagers who said they saw more than 15 troops at the scene.

But it is unclear whether the soldiers the villagers saw were part of a search party that left the base to look for the US soldier who was missing. The delegation is slated to formally release the results of its investigation later Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the delegation visited the two villages in southern Kandahar province where the shootings took place. Two villagers who lost relatives insisted that at least two soldiers took part in the shootings.

US military officials — and some villagers who have spoken to The Associated Press — have so far insisted that only one soldier was involved.

"We are still receiving, reviewing and investigating all leads in connection with this terrible incident, but at this time everything still points to one shooter," said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.

The surveillance video, taken from an overhead blimp that films the area around the base, shows a soldier in a US uniform approaching the south gate of the base with a traditional Afghan shawl hiding the weapon in his hand, the Afghan official said. He then removes the shawl as he lays his weapon on the ground and raises his arms in surrender.

Ahmad Shah Khan, a resident of a nearby village that was not involved in Sunday's shooting, said a soldier from the base had threatened their kids three days before the incident, after an armored vehicle hit a roadside bomb, causing damage but no casualties.

The soldiers arrived in Mokhoyan village — 500 yards (meters) east of the base — with their Afghan army counterparts and made many of the male villagers stand against a wall, said Khan.

"It looked like they were going to shoot us, and I was very afraid," said Khan. "Then a NATO soldier said through his translator that even our children will pay for this. Now they have done it and taken their revenge."

Several Afghan officials, including Kandahar lawmaker Abdul Rahim Ayubi, said people in the two villages that were attacked — Balandi and Alkozai — told them the same story. It's unclear if the soldier that threatened the villagers is the same one accused of carrying out the shooting spree.

The killings have stirred more anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan, but the reaction has not been as intense the wave of deadly riots that followed the burning of Qurans at a US base last month. That set off nearly a week of violent demonstrations and attacks left more than 30 dead, including six US soldiers killed apparent reprisal attacks.

Still the two events together have pushed the Afghan-US relationship to crisis level.

The Taliban has vowed revenge for the shootings.

A bomb hidden in a motorcycle exploded Wednesday about 600 meters (yards) from where the Afghan government delegation investigating the shootings was meeting in the southern city of Kandahar, said a spokesman for the provincial governor, Zalmai Ayubi.

The attack killed one Afghan intelligence official and wounded two. A civilian was also wounded. The bomb went off about 300 meters from the Afghan intelligence headquarters in Kandahar, said Ayubi.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban insurgents opened fire on the Afghan delegation Tuesday while they were visiting the villages that were attacked. One Afghan army soldier was killed and two other army personnel were wounded.

Afghan lawmakers have demanded that the alleged shooter, identified by US officials as a staff sergeant, face a public trial inside Afghanistan. They have called on Karzai to suspend any negotiations with the US on a long-term military pact until this happens.

"No final decision has been made yet" on the location of the trial, said Col. Gary Kolb, a US military spokesman in Afghanistan.

Kolb said that the US has held courts-martial in Afghanistan before, and could try the alleged shooter in the country.

"They'll take a look at all the circumstances and determine if they do it here or if it goes back to the States."

The US military is holding the soldier in Kandahar. Military officials say slipped off a US base before dawn Sunday, walked to the villages, barged into their homes and opened fire. Some of the corpses were burned. Eleven were from one family. Five people were wounded.

The military held a hearing for the detained soldier on Tuesday and found there was probable cause to continue holding him. He has not yet been named yet. Panetta, the US defense secretary, has said he could face capital punishment.

The killings have further soured relations with war-weary Afghans, jeopardizing the US strategy of working closely with Afghan forces so they can take over their country's security by the end of 2014.

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak called the killings "deplorable" but said the country must remember the bigger issues at stake, likely a reference to the fear that the Taliban could capitalize on a precipitous foreign withdrawal.

"I mean the stakes are much higher than this incident, which we have all have condemned, and I think we are assured that the US authority will take appropriate action," said Wardak in a news conference with German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere in Kabul.

President Barack Obama has pledged a thorough investigation, saying the US was taking the case "as seriously as if it was our own citizens, and our children, who were murdered."

Protesters in the east called for the death of the accused US soldier Tuesday and burned an effigy of Obama as well as a cross, which they used as a symbol of people who — like many Americans — are Christians.

It was the first significant protest since the killings.

Military commanders have yet to release their final investigation on the Quran burnings, which US officials say was a mistake. Five US service members could face disciplinary action in connection with the incident.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday expressed deep sadness at the "shocking incident" and said the UN expects that an investigation will rapidly establish the facts, that those responsible will be held accountable, and that the public will be kept informed.

Also Wednesday, eight civilians were killed in southern Helmand province's Marjah district when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle, the provincial governor's office said.

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