Reprisal fears in Afghanistan

Fighting: British troops fighting in Afghanistan Credit: Ministry of Defence

British troops could be killed in reprisal attacks after an American soldier allegedly gunned down 16 villagers in southern Afghanistan, the former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan said today. Colonel Richard Kemp said the massacre will also cause an erosion of the vital trust allied forces have built up with Afghan civilians over the course of the war.

One of the most important things that our forces do day-to-day in Afghanistan is to build up trust with the local people and get them to turn against the Taliban and provide extremely important intelligence that enables us to take the Taliban networks apart. "That trust is going to be eroded by this kind of incident, so not only are we likely to see protests and possibly American, possibly British soldiers killed over what happened on Saturday night, but also a very severe weakening of the relationship between many of the people in Afghanistan who were supporting us."

The former commander said relations between international security forces and the Afghan government would also be weakened as a result of the murders, which took place in two villages close to a US army base in Panjwai, southern Kandahar, on Saturday.

President Barack Obama yesterday offered his condolences to Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai and expressed his "shock and sadness" over the incident. US military officials vowed to bring those responsible to justice and launched an investigation into the killings.

They said a service member, reported to be an Army staff sergeant, was being detained in Kandahar with initial indications suggesting he handed himself in following the massacre.