KABUL, Afghanistan – An American soldier has been placed in custody and a criminal investigation opened into the shooting death of a Taliban prisoner in volatile Kandahar province, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.
The incident could inflame tensions between the Western military and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who earlier in the day had described the detainee’s death as an “assassination” and demanded a thorough investigation.
The case coincides with grisly disclosures arising from the trial in Washington state of five U.S. servicemen accused of deliberately killing Afghan civilians during a tour of duty in Kandahar province, and keeping trophies such as fingers and other body parts.
Details in the detainee’s death have been slow to emerge. Military officials initially said only that a man had been found dead Sunday in an Afghan holding facility in Arghandab, a district on the outskirts of Kandahar city. The area has been the scene of heavy fighting between the Taliban and Western troops, mainly American.
The captive, who was under U.S. guard at the time, died of an “apparent gunshot wound,” the American military said in Tuesday’s statement. It described the prisoner as a senior leader of a Taliban network in Arghandab who had been captured Saturday by coalition forces.
Military officials did not identify the unit of the American soldier in custody.
“The U.S. takes very seriously any mistreatment of detainees,” Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the director of communications for U.S. forces, said in a statement. “Our forces are trained to uphold the rights of persons in custody, and any violation of those rights are fully investigated.”
The subject is a sensitive one at the moment; earlier this week U.S. military officials denied allegations of mistreatment at a detention facility at Bagram airfield, north of Kabul.
The investigation of the death in Kandahar was being carried out by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, the military said, adding that the Afghan government would be kept fully informed.