REPORTING FROM HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN -- The U.S. soldier who allegedly massacred 16 civilians near Kandahar has been transferred out of Afghanistan to an undisclosed location, according to a senior defense official.
Transferring the soldier, an Army staff sergeant, means he will almost certainly not stand trial in Afghanistan, as some Afghan officials and clerics have demanded. U.S. officials have said the alleged assailant would face a military court-martial once charges are formally filed.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Monday that the suspected gunman, whose name has not been released, could face the death penalty if he is convicted of murder.
The soldier is alleged to have walked off his base before dawn and entered a nearby village, where he went house to house and shot to death 16 people, including nine children and three women. He then allegedly tried to burn some of the bodies.
The gruesome incident, the worst known atrocity by an American soldier in the decade-old war, was a blow to efforts by the Obama administration to negotiate a long-term strategic partnership with the government in Kabul to keep insurgents at bay as U.S. troops are drawn down.
So far the massacre has mostly spurred grieving, not riots or a wave of retribution killings. On Tuesday, the Taliban claimed credit after shots were fired at a government delegation offering condolences in the village that suffered the rampage.
-- David S. Cloud and Laura King
Photo: Afghan villagers pray for victims of Sunday's massacre of civilians, allegedly by a U.S. soldier in Kandahar province. Credit: Allauddin Khan / Associated Press