KANDAHAR - The Afghan Taliban vowed Monday, March 12, to exact revenge for 16 people massacred by a "sick minded American soldier who went on a house-to-house shooting spree in two villages.
The Taliban threatened to take revenge against "sick-minded American savages ... for every single martyr," according to a statement on their website cited by Agence France Presse (AFP).
"A large number from amongst the victims are innocent children, women and the elderly, martyred by the American barbarians who mercilessly robbed them of their precious lives and drenched their hands with their innocent blood," the statement added.
"The American 'terrorists' want to come up with an excuse for the perpetrator of this inhumane crime by claiming that this immoral culprit was mentally ill.
"If the perpetrators of this massacre were in fact mentally ill then this testifies to yet another moral transgression by the American military because they are arming lunatics in Afghanistan who turn their weapons against the defenseless Afghans without giving a second thought," the statement added.
The rampage started when a US soldier walked off his base and broke into the homes of villagers in Kandahar province's Panjwayi district before dawn Sunday, killing 16 people including nine women and three children.
Some bodies bore blackened burn marks, according to an AFP correspondent who saw them at the villages in the southern province of Kandahar.
The attack sent shockwaves among Afghan officials and Afghan President Hamed Karzai who reacted with anger to what he called the deliberate and unforgivable killings in Kandahar.
"When Afghan people are killed deliberately by US forces, this action is murder and terror and an unforgivable action," Karzai said.
The families of those killed included Rafihullah, a 15-year-old boy wounded in the leg, who told Karzai the soldier had torn the dresses of the women in the house and insulted them.
"He came to my uncle's home, he was running after women, he was tearing their dresses, insulting them," Rafihullah said on an audiotape of the conversation heard by AFP.
"He killed my uncle and killed our servant and killed my grandma, he shot dead my uncle's son, his daughter," the boy said.
Rushing to save sinking ties, President Barack Obama telephoned Karzai to promise a speedy investigation into the "shocking" killings.
"I am deeply saddened by the reported killing and wounding of Afghan civilians. I offer my condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives, and to the people of Afghanistan, who have endured too much violence and suffering," Obama said, CNN reported on Monday.
"This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan."
In a separate statement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he was "shocked and saddened" by the attack.
He also assured Karzai in a phone call that a "full investigation" was under way.
"A suspect is in custody, and I gave President Karzai my assurances that we will bring those responsible to justice," Panetta said.
The acting US Ambassador James Cunningham also said his country was "saddened by this violent act against our Afghan friends."
"We deplore any attack by a member of the US Armed Forces against innocent civilians," he said in a video statement, assuring "the people of Afghanistan that the individual or individuals responsible for this terrible act will be identified and brought to justice," he said.
The Kandahar massacre came after Afghan laborers found charred copies of the Noble Qur'an while collecting rubbish at Bagram airbase in Kabul last month.
The burning sparked deadly protests across Afghanistan, which left at least 30 people dead.
US President Barack Obama and NATO commanders have apologized for the Qur'an burning, describing it as a mistake.
But, Sunday's massacre, the latest American public relations disaster in Afghanistan, could be a turning point for the US, which wants to maintain advisers there as it tries to wind down the increasingly unpopular war.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement currently being negotiated is a key part of that strategy.
"This could delay the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement," an Afghan government official told Reuters on Monday.