President Obama said today he is "deeply saddened" by "tragic and shocking" reports that a U.S. soldier shot and killed as many as 16 Afghanistan civilians.
"I offer my condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives, and to the people of Afghanistan, who have endured too much violence and suffering," Obama said in a written statement.
"This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan." Obama added.
The president also said he fully supports the commitment by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. John Allen "to get the facts as quickly as possible and to hold accountable anyone responsible."
Obama had been briefed earlier on the shootings of Afghanistan civilians by a U.S. service member, as military officials continue to gather facts on the incident that will probably further strain U.S.-Afghan relations.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, "we are deeply concerned by the initial reports of this incident, and are monitoring the situation closely."
The unidentified U.S. servicemember walked off his base in southern Afghanistan and started shooting civilians, according to villagers as well as NATO and Afghanistan officials.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said 16 people have been killed, including nine children and three women, and he has demanded a U.S. explanation for what he calls "an assassination."
The shooting occurred less than a month after the accidental burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base triggered riots by Afghans.
The killings may also increase calls for the United States military to leave Afghanistan ahead of its scheduled 2014 departure date.
Republican presidential Newt Gingrich advocated such a course this morning. Speaking on CBS' Face The Nation, Gingrich said, "I think that we have to reassess the entire region," citing U.S. problems with neighboring Pakistan as well.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on ABC's This Week the U.S. should finish the mission in Afghanistan so that it does not again become a base for terrorists.
The "tragic" shooting will be investigated, and "that soldier will be held accountable for his actions under the military justice system," Graham said. "Unfortunately, these things happen in war."
From the Associated Press:
The shooting could deepen strife between U.S. forces and their Afghan hosts just as weeks of violence set off by the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. base had started to die down.
The burnings sparked violent protests and attacks that killed some 30 people. Six U.S. servicemembers have been killed in attacks by their Afghan colleagues since the Quran burnings came to light.
NATO officials apologized for Sunday's shootings.
"I wish to convey my profound regrets and dismay at the actions apparently taken by one coalition member in Kandahar province, said a statement from Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, the deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"One of our soldiers is reported to have killed and injured a number of civilians in villages adjacent to his base. I cannot explain the motivation behind such callous acts, but they were in no way part of authorized ISAF military activity," he said, using the abbreviation for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
NATO spokesman Justin Brockhoff said a U.S. servicemember had been detained at a NATO base as the alleged shooter. The casualties were evacuated to NATO medical facilities, he added.