Afghan Delegation Attacked By Militants At Site Of US Killings

Taliban militants opened fire on Tuesday on an Afghan government delegation visiting one of the two villages in southern Afghanistan where a US soldier is suspected of killing 16 civilians.

Some 600 students protested in Jalalabad against the US soldier's attackBalandi, Afghanistan:  Taliban militants opened fire on Tuesday on an Afghan government delegation visiting one of the two villages in southern Afghanistan where a US soldier is suspected of killing 16 civilians.

The gunfire killed an Afghan soldier who was providing security for the delegation, said Gen. Abdul Razaq, the police chief for Kandahar province where the visit took place. Another Afghan soldier and a military prosecutor were wounded in the attack, he said.

The attack in Balandi village came as the Taliban vowed to kill and behead those responsible for the 16 Afghan civilians killed on Sunday.

The delegation, which included two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers and other senior officials, was holding a memorial service in a mosque for victims when the shooting started.

One of the president's brothers, Qayum Karzai, said the attack didn't seem serious to him.

"We were giving them our condolences, then we heard two very, very light shots," said Karzai. "Then we assumed that it was the national army that started to fire in the air."

He said the members of the delegation, which also included Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa and Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Asadullah Khalid, were safe and headed back to Kandahar city.

The US is holding an Army staff sergeant in custody who is suspected of carrying out the killings before dawn on Sunday in two villages close to his base in Panjwai district, considered the birthplace of the Taliban.

Villagers have described him stalking from house to house in the middle of the night, opening fire on sleeping families and then burning some of the bodies of the dead afterward.

Nine of the 16 killed were children, and three were women, according to Karzai.

Hundreds of students in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday shouted angry slogans against the United States and the American soldier accused of carrying out the killings, the first significant protest in response to the tragedy.

The killings have caused outrage in Afghanistan but have not sparked the kind of violent protests seen last month after American soldiers burned Muslim holy books and other Islamic texts.

The more muted response could be a result of Afghans being used to dealing with civilian casualties in over a decade of war. Some have said the slayings in Panjwai were more in keeping with Afghans' experience of deadly night raids and airstrikes by US-led forces than the Quran burnings were.

But the students protesting at a university in Jalalabad city, 80 miles (125 kilometers) east of the capital Kabul, were incensed.

"Death to America!" and "Death to the soldier who killed our civilians!" shouted the crowd.

Some carried a banner that called for a public trial of the soldier, who US officials have identified as a married, 38-year-old father of two who was trained as a sniper and recently suffered a head injury in Iraq.

Other protesters burned an effigy of President Barack Obama.

"The reason we are protesting is because of the killing of innocent children and other civilians by this tyrant US soldier," said Sardar Wali, a university student. "We want the United Nations and the Afghan government to publicly try this guy."

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement sent to reporters on Tuesday that the soldier should be tried as a war criminal and executed by the victims' relatives.

Obama has expressed his shock and sadness and extended his condolences to the families of the victims. But he has also said the horrific episode would not speed up plans to pull out foreign forces, despite increasing opposition at home to the war in Afghanistan.