Soldier shot dead by Afghan insurgents

Suspected insurgents opened fire yesterday on senior Afghan investigators of the massacre of 16 civilians by a lone US soldier, killing a member of their security detail, hours after the Taliban threatened to behead American troops to avenge Sunday’s killings.

The gunmen shot from long range at two of President Hamid Karzai’s brothers, Shah Wali Karzai and Abdul Qayum Karzai, and security officials at the site of the massacre in Kandahar’s Panjwai district.

The brief battle began during meetings with local people at a mosque near Najiban and Alekozai villages. A soldier was killed and a civilian wounded.

The Taliban had earlier threatened reprisals for the weekend shooting spree, which came weeks after deadly riots across the country over the burning of copies of the Koran by US troops at Nato’s main base.

“The Islamic Emirate once again warns the American animals that the mujahideen will avenge them, and with the help of Allah will kill and behead your sadistic murderous soldiers,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

The grim warning followed the beheading of four Afghan men by insurgents last month.

The first protests over Sunday’s massacre also broke out in Jalalabad, where around 2,000 demonstrators chanted “Death to America” and demanded Karzai reject a planned pact with Washington that would allow US advisers and possibly special forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

An unnamed US soldier — reported to have only recently arrived in the country — is accused of walking off his base in Kandahar province in the middle of the night and gunning down at least 16 villagers, mostly women and children.

A US official said the accused soldier had suffered a traumatic brain injury while on a previous deployment in Iraq.

The soldier was based at a joint US-Afghan base used by elite US troops under a so-called village support programme hailed by Nato as a possible model for US involvement in the country.

Such bases provide support to local Afghan security units and provide a source of security advice and training, as well as anti-insurgent backup and intelligence.

US President Barack Obama, speaking after a phone call with Karzai — who is said to be furious over the latest deaths — said the shootings had only increased his determination to get US troops out as planned.

However, Obama cautioned there should not be a “rush to the exits” for US forces who have been fighting in Afghanistan since late 2001 and that the drawdown set for the end of 2014 should be done in a responsible way.

Maenwhile, British prime minister David Cameron last night accepted that Afghanistan will not be “a perfect democracy” by the time British troops leave in 2014, but said that the public wants to see an “endgame” to a military operation that has lasted more than a decade.

Cameron was speaking as he headed to the US for talks with Obama in which the two leaders are expected to sketch out a timetable for the withdrawal of troops.

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