WASHINGTON — The Pentagon rejected calls Monday for an American soldier arrested in the killings of 16 Afghan civilians to be tried in public in Afghanistan, saying the US military will prosecute him.
Investigations, and where warranted, the prosecutions of US service members are governed by "agreements in place with the government of Afghanistan," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
He insisted the US military has "very strong means to address wrongdoing."
Little's comments came after the Afghan parliament demanded a public trial before the Afghan people for the rogue American soldier's "brutal and inhuman" killings, whose victims were mostly women and children.
The American walked off his base in southern Kandahar province and allegedly broke into three village homes before dawn Sunday in an event Afghan President Hamid Karzai described as "unforgivable."
Among the most brutal atrocities by US forces in over 10 years of war in Afghanistan, the incident brought US-Afghan relations to their lowest point and threatened US negotiations with the Afghan government on a long-term security relationship.
It came amid growing public anger after Americans burned Korans last month and an earlier video that allegedly showed US Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban militants.
"We seriously demand and expect that the government of the United States punish the culprits and try them in a public trial before the people of Afghanistan," the lower house of the Afghan parliament said in statement.
"People are running out of patience over the ignorance of foreign forces."
The US Army sergeant alleged to have committed the Afghan killings is in his 30s, according to Little. He served three tours of duty in Iraq and this was his first deployment to Afghanistan.
"We believe that this was a lone US servicemember who was involved in this deeply tragic set of shootings," Little said.
"This is an isolated incident and we will pursue accountability for the alleged actions of this servicemember."
The spokesman said he was unaware of the soldier's possible motives or mental state, adding: "That's obviously a key part of the investigation."
The United States typically obtains agreements with host countries stipulating that US military personnel be tried under the US military justice system for any alleged crimes.
A massacre in the Iraqi town of Haditha in November 2005 that left 24 civilians dead ended in US military trials in which seven of the accused were cleared and an eighth sentenced to 90 days in prison but not required to serve any time.
After Baghdad refused to grant immunity to US military personnel from prosecution by Iraqi courts, Washington opted last year against keeping troops there to train and advise the Iraqi security forces and secure its borders with Iran.
Sunday's massacre poses a difficult test for the US-Afghan alliance, as the two countries pursue complex negotiations on a strategic pact to govern their security relationship once foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.
Any deal would address the legal status of any US troops who stay behind to help prevent the country falling back into the hands of the Taliban, who were toppled in 2001 for sheltering Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
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