Suspect in Afghan massacre flown to Kuwait

Afghan policemen are seen at the scene of a bomb explosion in Kandahar south of Kabul, Afghanistan, March 14, 2012.
AP Photo/Allauddin khan

(CBS/AP) KABUL, Afghanistan - A U.S. military official says the American soldier accused of killings 16 Afghan civilians on a shooting spree has been flown out of Afghanistan to Kuwait, according to a U.S. official.

The official said Wednesday that the soldier has been flown to a "pretrial confinement facility." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not yet been publicly announced.

CBS News correspondent David Martin reports that Defense Department spokesman Capt. John Kirby said the suspect was moved because "we do not have an appropriate detention facility in Afghanistan" and that the move was made on the legal recommendation of the command's lawyer.

A second official told Martin that it was done with the knowledge and approval of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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The suspect's removal Wednesday came hours after surveillance video was released showing him walking up to his base, laying down his weapon and raising his arms in surrender, according to an Afghan official who viewed the footage.

The official said Wednesday there were also two to three hours of video footage covering the time of the attack that Afghan investigators are trying to get from the U.S. military. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

U.S. authorities showed their Afghan counterparts the video of the surrender to prove that only one perpetrator was involved in Sunday's shootings, the official said. The shootings, which killed nine children among the 16 dead, has further strained already shaky relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan.

Some Afghan officials and residents in the villages that were attacked have insisted there was more than one shooter. If this disagreement persists, it could deepen the distrust even more.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in the country Wednesday, the first senior American official to visit since the killings. He and other American officials have said the tragedy should not derail the U.S. and NATO strategy of a gradual withdrawal of most troops by the end of 2014. But the shooting spree has fueled calls in both countries for foreign troops to leave more quickly.

It has also complicated already tense negotiations between the two nations over an agreement governing the presence American troops after 2014.

A member of an Afghan government delegation investigating the killings said Wednesday that the group has concluded they were carried out by more than one soldier. Parliament member Sayeed Ishaq Gilani said the delegation had heard from villagers who said they saw more than 15 troops at the scene.

But it is unclear whether the soldiers the villagers saw were part of a search party that left the base to look for the U.S. soldier who was missing. The delegation is slated to formally release the results of its investigation later Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the delegation visited the two villages in southern Kandahar province where the shootings took place. Two villagers who lost relatives insisted that at least two soldiers took part in the shootings.

U.S. military officials — some villagers who have spoken to The Associated Press — have so far insisted that only one soldier was involved.

The surveillance video, taken from an overhead blimp that films the area around the base, shows a soldier in a U.S. uniform approaching the south gate of the base with a traditional Afghan shawl hiding the weapon in his hand, the Afghan official said. He then removes the shawl as he lays his weapon on the ground and raises his arms in surrender.

The killings have stirred more anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan, but the reaction has not been as intense the wave of deadly riots that followed the burning of Korans at a U.S. base last month. That set off nearly a week of violent demonstrations and attacks left more than 30 dead, including six U.S. soldiers killed apparent reprisal attacks.

President Barack Obama has pledged a thorough investigation, saying the U.S. was taking the case "as seriously as if it was our own citizens, and our children, who were murdered."