- (Photo: Reuters/Ahmad Nadeem)
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that the military would not rule out the option of the death penalty against the U.S. soldier responsible for the gruesome slaughter of 16 Afghan civilians on Sunday morning.
"War is hell. These kind of events and incidences are going to take place. They've taken place in any war. They're terrible events. This is not the first of those events, and they probably won't be the last," Panetta told reporters Monday.
The military would take appropriate measures to adequately punish the soldier and the "death penalty could be a consideration," according to Panetta.
A 38-year-old U.S. army staff sergeant, whose name has not been disclosed, is suspected to have carried out the massacre on Sunday morning in Panjwai in Afghanistan's volatile Kandahar province. He is currently under arrest in an undisclosed location.
The soldier broke into the homes of villagers on Sunday before dawn shooting, stabbing, and setting fire to 16 civilian villagers, nine of which were children, according to officials.
The staff sergeant believed to have carried out the killing spree completed three tours of duty in Iraq where he suffered from a traumatic brain injury in a vehicle accident before heading to Afghanistan.
Thousands of Afghan's came out in protest of the killings on Tuesday as militants attacked government delegates who visited the site of the deaths. One Afghan soldier and three militants died as a result of the attacks.
Protesters chanted "Death to America -- Death to Obama" in the city of Jalalabad.
Locals have expressed extreme dismay over the murder spree, arguing that they had been promised to be protected by Americans at the nearby base.
One of the delegates told The Associated Press that the governor of Panjwai attempted to explain to locals that the incident was isolated, but disillusioned villagers were wary of the explanation.
"The people were just shouting and they were very angry. They didn't listen to the governor. They accused him of defending the Americans instead of the Kandahari people," the delegate told the AP.
The Taliban has lashed out over the incident, posting gruesome pictures of the attacks on its website and vowing to take revenge for the massacre by "sick-minded American savages." On Tuesday morning the group released a statement urging its followers to behead all Americans in the country.
Last month, the Taliban urged followers to kill Westerners in retaliation for the accidental burnings of Qurans at a joint U.S.-NATO military base in the country.
The Quran burnings sparked a week of violent protests that left dozens of people dead, including several U.S. soldiers.