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Q&A: Sorrow, search for answers by Afghan villagers

updated 6:57 PM EDT, Mon March 12, 2012
A man cries over the bodies of civilians allegedly shot by a rogue U.S. soldier on Sunday.
A man cries over the bodies of civilians allegedly shot by a rogue U.S. soldier on Sunday.
  • American solider accused in shooting spree in Afghanistan on Sunday
  • CNN correspondent in Afghanistan weighs in on what she's hearing on the ground
  • Photos and videos purport to show some scenes of the attack

(CNN) -- An American soldier went on a house-to-house shooting spree in two villages in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan early Sunday, Afghan officials said, killing 16 people.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the soldier acted alone and turned himself in after opening fire on civilians. U.S. President Barack Obama called the killings "tragic and shocking."

What are people feeling in Afghanistan, and how will this affect the U.S. strategy moving forward? CNN correspondent Sara Sidner in Kabul, Afghanistan, takes a look in this edited transcript.

Q: There were some reports suggesting that perhaps it was several soldiers. What can you tell us about that?

SIDNER: The U.S. and International Security Assistance Force officials are sticking with the one-soldier story: that just one Army staff sergeant left the base, went on a shooting rampage and then returned and turn himself in. They are still saying that on Monday, that this was the work of one person, that there was no mission going on at the time in the area, that that person obviously has been detained, and a full investigation is under way.

But I want to tell you a little bit about some really gruesome images that I've just looked at, coming from one of the locals in the area who took a lot of photos and video of the villagers. The scene is gruesome. Perhaps the worst pictures are burned bodies, including a toddler who has what appears to be a bullet hole in the toddler's head. There are images inside of one of these small homes of blood-covered floors and blood splattered on the walls.

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And we're also talking about shell casings that are on the ground that are being picked up, obviously from investigators who have come in the next day. This apparently happened somewhere between 2 and 3 in the morning on Sunday. Since then, the villagers have been accusing the U.S. government of not telling the truth, saying there were more U.S. soldiers on the ground when this happened.

But we did hear from a couple of people saying that all they know is that at least one of them did open fire. That person, as I said, has been detained.

But gruesome images coming out of Panjwai district. This is an area known to have a strong Taliban presence, an area, though, where villagers say, "look, we were told by the U.S. to come back to this area, and look what has happened to us" -- a lot of sorrow, a lost people crying and trying to explain what happened through tears there in Panjwai, which is in the western part of Kandahar.

Q: And are there worries now about reprisals?

SIDNER: Yes, the Taliban has already said Monday that there will be reprisals, perhaps violent ones. We also know that members of parliament here in Kabul have decided to close down the parliament here in protest of the killings.

There is a lot of anger brewing. We know that there have been the villagers that have gathered outside of the base. Of course, the funerals will happen on Monday as well. So we'll be getting more and more information from that area.

But the anger is growing, and there's a lot of speculation that this really plays right into the hands of the Taliban, who is trying to sort of divide people and trying to say, "look, you can't really trust these coalition forces who claim to be here to help you."

The U.S. government, NATO and Afghan officials are looking into this, but there are a lot of people asking for swift justice and wanting the person who perpetrated this crime to be tried right here in Afghanistan. We don't know if that's likely to happen or not.

Q: And have you heard anything about how this affects the strategy moving forward in Afghanistan?

SIDNER: Yes, right now, everyone is just expressing their anger or sorrow or both over what happened. This is certainly going to strain ties again between the Afghan government and the U.S. President Obama has said he is deeply saddened by what happened and this is a deplorable and regrettable incident.

But Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said this is unforgivable and an act of terror, in his words. And he, in a statement Sunday, made it seem like he believed that there was actually some sort of a mission that went wrong. We're still trying to clarify exactly what he meant by his words. But certainly, there is anger now, and there's going to be a lot to get worked through because of this incident.

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