An Afghan soldier speaks to civilians gathered outside a military base in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, March 11, 2012. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says a U.S. service member has killed more than a dozen people in a shooting including nine children and three women. Karzai called the attack Sunday "an assassination" and demanded an explanation from the United States. He says several people were also wounded in the attack on two villages near a U.S. base in the southern province of Kandahar. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban vowed revenge Monday for an "inhumane attack" in which an American soldier allegedly shot to death 16 civilians in southern Afghanistan and torched their bodies — an assault that has fueled anger still simmering after U.S. troops burned Qurans last month.
U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan have stepped up security following the shootings Sunday in Kandahar province out of concern about retaliatory attacks. The U.S. Embassy has also warned American citizens in Afghanistan about the possibility of reprisals.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for several attacks last month that the group said were in retaliation for the Americans burning Qurans. Afghan forces also turned their guns on their supposed allies at the time, killing six U.S. troops as violent protests wracked the country.
There were no signs of protests Monday and it was unclear what the response would be to Sunday's deadly spree. It may not be as dramatic as after the Quran burnings since the desecration of the Muslim holy book is viewed as one of the worst sins in Islam. Afghans have also faced numerous instances of civilian casualties from coalition military operations, though rarely the kind of killings seen Sunday.
But the attack will likely spark even greater distrust between Washington and Kabul and fuel questions in both countries about why American troops are still fighting in Afghanistan after 10 years of conflict and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The Taliban said in a statement on their website that "sick-minded American savages" committed the "blood-soaked and inhumane crime" in Panjwai district, a rural region outside Kandahar that is the cradle of the Taliban and where coalition forces have fought for control for years.
The militant group promised the families of the victims that it would take revenge "for every single martyr with the help of Allah."
There are still many questions about what happened in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai in Panjwai before dawn Sunday and what motivated the killings.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and said the 16 dead included nine children and three women. Five other villagers were wounded.
"This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven," Karzai said Sunday.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings confirmed Monday that the number of dead was "in the teens" but declined to be more specific, saying U.S. forces had not been given access to independently count the bodies.
U.S. and Afghan officials have said the attack began around 3 a.m. in the two villages, which are fairly close to a U.S. base in a region that was the focus of President Barack Obama's military surge in the south starting in 2009.
Villagers described how they cowered in fear as gunshots rang out while the soldier roamed from house to house firing on those inside. They said he entered three homes in all and set fire to some of the bodies. Eleven of the dead were from a single family.
The burning of the bodies may ignite even more outrage because it is seen as the desecration of corpses and therefore against Islam.
U.S. officials said the shooter, identified as an Army staff sergeant, acted alone after leaving his base in southern Afghanistan. Initial reports indicated he returned to the base after the shooting and turned himself in. He was in custody at a NATO base in Afghanistan.