While the U.S. military is not identifying the American soldier being investigated in the gunning down of 16 villagers in Afghanistan until charges are filed, military officials say the man had suffered a traumatic brain injury.
The soldier, who is accused of killing the villagers — including nine children and three women — is a trained sniper from Fort Lewis, Washington, according to the Daily Mail. The soldier has been in the Army for 11 years, serving three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
A military official said the brain injury might have been caused by a car accident or from hitting his head on the hatch of a vehicle. He took and passed a mental health screening in 2008. The staff sergeant is married with children, but may have been going through marital problems when he opened fire in the homes of three Afghan families.
Officials say the soldier left his base in Kandahar at 3 a.m. wearing night-vision goggles. That's when, they say, he entered the three homes and began shooting. Family members of the victims claim the soldier also poured chemicals over their corpses before setting them on fire. He then turned himself in at his base. He is now in pretrial confinement as Army officials investigate.
"He was walking around taking up positions in the house — in two or three places like he was searching," said Mohammad Zahir, a 26-year-old villager who said the soldier wounded his father. "He was on his knees when he shot my father in the thigh."
The incident has sparked outrage as Afghans call for the immediate removal of American troops in Afghanistan. The Taliban claims more than one soldier is responsible and has vowed revenge, calling the killings "blood-soaked and inhumane crime" by "sick-minded American savages" on its website.
U.S. officials say their exit strategy will not be affected by the killings.
"The focus of our overall strategy is not in reaction to a single event," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
"I do not believe that this incident will change the timetable of a strategy that was designed and is being implemented in a way to allow for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, to allow for the transfer of lead security authority over to the Afghans," Carney said.