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Soldier from Wash. suspected of killing 16 Afghans: source

WASHINGTON (NEWS1130) – A US official says the American suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers Sunday is a soldier from Washington state who was assigned to a remote special operations site.

US officials say the soldier acted alone, leaving his base in southern Afghanistan and opening fire on sleeping families in two villages.

The official says he is a conventional soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington state. He was assigned to support a special operations unit of either Green Berets or Navy SEALs engaged in a village stability operation.

Such operations are among NATO’s best hopes for transitioning out of Afghanistan. They pair special operations troops with local villagers chosen by village elders to become essentially a sanctioned, armed neighbourhood watch.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still ongoing.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, were killed when the American service member left the base and open fired on civilians.

The number of dead has not been independently confirmed by NATO, but early estimates had said that at least 10 civilians had been killed.

Anti-American sentiment is already bubbling in Afghanistan after American soldiers, whether accidentally or not, burned copies of the Qur’an last month.

“This incident obviously coming at a very bad time, when there is a lot of pressure from outside groups to move coalition forces outside of Afghanistan,” explains CNN’s Sara Snider.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force did not confirm the number of dead but did confirm an American service member has been detained in connection with an incident that resulted in Afghan casualties in Kandahar province.

There are some reports that the service member entered a number of homes and began firing, but officials say they do not have a motive for the shooting, which is currently under investigation by both NATO and Afghan officials.

The ISAF released a statement calling it a deeply regrettable incident and extending their thoughts and concerns to the families involved.