A US soldier reportedly carried out a brutal slaying of at least 16 Afghan civilians early this morning in two small villages near his base in the country's southern Kandahar Province.
"It appears he walked off post and later returned and turned himself in," military spokesman Lt. Cmdr. James Williams said of the unidentified staff sergeant who is currently in custody.
According to eyewitnesses, the soldier walked into at least three homes in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai and fired at their occupants. Nine children and three women were among the dead, per the latest report.
The deputy commander of Afghanistan's international troop coalition, Lt. Gen. Adrian J. Bradshaw, stressed that this was "in no way part of authorized military activity." US officials further denied earlier reports that the shooting was perpetrated by more than one assailant.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai released a statement demanding an explanation for the attack, which he referred to as "an intentional killing of innocent civilians [that] cannot be forgiven."
The Taliban issued a similar statement, admonishing "the so called American peace keepers" for "once again quench[ing] their thirst with the blood of innocent Afghan civilians."
The US Embassy in Kabul attempted to diffuse the tension by releasing a statement expressing "deepest condolences to the families of the victims," but experts say today's incident may be the "fatal hammer blow on the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan."
President Obama's drawdown plan has US soldiers transferring full security control to their Afghan counterparts by the end of 2014.
[photo: afp/getty via msnbc.]