KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) - An Afghan man recounted Monday the harrowing tale of how an American soldier on a killing spree burst into his home in the middle of the night, searched the rooms, then dropped to a knee and shot his father in the thigh as he emerged from a bedroom.
The staff sergeant is now in custody, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, most of them children, and then burning many of the bodies. The name of the 38-year-old soldier was not released because it would be "inappropriate" to do so before charges are filed, said Pentagon spokesman George Little.
Sunday's attack in southern Kandahar province comes as anti-Americanism already is boiling over in Afghanistan after U.S. troops burned Qurans last month and a video of Marines urinating on alleged Taliban corpses was posted on the Internet in January.
If the attack unleashes another wave of anti-foreigner hatred, it could threaten the future of the U.S.-led coalition's mission in Afghanistan. The events have also raised doubts among U.S. political figures that the long and costly war is worthy.
NATO and member countries said the slayings were a blow to the alliance's efforts to the sacrifice in lives and monecultivate trust but would not affect the timeline to hand over security operations to Afghans by the end of 2014. The White House said U.S. objectives will not change because of the killings.
Outraged Afghan lawmakers called for a suspension of talks on how to formalize a long-term U.S. military presence in the country and demanded that the shooter face trial in an Afghan court.
The soldier was deployed to Afghanistan on Dec. 3 with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord located south of Seattle, according to a congressional source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
He was attached Feb. 1 to the village stability program in Belambai, a half-mile from one of the villages where the attack took place, the source said.
The soldier, who has been in the military for 11 years, served three tours in Iraq and is married with two children, was being held in pretrial confinement in Kandahar by the U.S. military while Army officials review his complete deployment and medical history, Pentagon officials said.
A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is under investigation, said Monday that during a recent tour of duty in Iraq, the suspect was involved in a vehicle accident and suffered a head injury, although information about the extent of the injury was not available Monday. The vehicle accident was not combat-related event, and there was no available indication that his injury could be linked to any abnormal behavior afterward, the official said.
Two U.S. officials said the suspect had been trained as a sniper.
Villager Mohammad Zahir told how he watched the soldier enter his house and move through it methodically, checking each room.
"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," he said.
Zahir, 26, said he quickly went to a part of the house where animals are penned.
"After that, I saw him moving to different areas of the house - like he was searching," he said.
His father, unarmed, then took a few steps out of his bedroom, Zahir recalled.
"He was not holding anything - not even a cup of tea," Zahir said. Then the soldier fired.
"I love my father, but I was sure that if I came out he would shoot me too. So I waited." Zahir said. His mother started pulling his father into the room, and he helped cover his father's bullet wound with a cloth. Zahir's father survived.
After the gunman left, Zahir said he heard more gunshots near the house, and he stayed in hiding for a few minutes to make sure he was gone.
The shooting rampage unfolded in two villages near a U.S. base. An enraged President Hamid Karzai called it "an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians" that cannot be forgiven. He demanded an explanation from Washington for the deaths, which included nine children and three women.