13/03/2012 07:54 GMT | Updated 16/03/2012 05:16 GMT

Afghanistan Shootings: Taliban Attack Memorial Delegation As Protests Erupt

Insurgents in Afghanistan have opened fire on a government delegation at a service marking the deaths of 16 villagers shot by a US staff sergeant.

One Afghan soldier was killed in the attack and a policeman was wounded, officials told the AFP news agency.

Two other people were also injured in the 10-minute gun battle at the mosque where the prayer service was taking place, the BBC reported.

The Taliban had vowed revenge after the killings on Sunday by the unnamed 38-year-old US staff sergeant, who is currently in custody.

Two brothers of Afghan president Hamid Karzai were with the delegation in Panjwali in Kandahar province when it was attacked.

Several high-ranking security officials were also with the group, as were Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa and Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Asadullah Khalid.

The AP quoted Abdul Rahim Ayubi as saying that the shooting was initially thought to be ceremonial.

"Today, the Kandahar governor was trying to explain to the villagers that he was only one soldier, that he was not a sane person and that he was sick," said the local lawmaker said.

"But the people were just shouting and they were very angry. They didn't listen to the governor. They accused him of defending the Americans instead of defending the Kandahari people."

Compensation of $2,000 per death and $1,000 for each wounded person had already been paid by the delegation.

Meanwhile in Jalalabad the first large-scale protests against the killing erupted.

Witnesses said that around 600 students demonstrated at a university. Some burned effigies of President Barack Obama.

"Death to the soldier who killed our civilians!" the protesters chanted, according to the AP.

However the same scale of protests which erupted after US soldiers inadvertently burned copies of the Koran last month have not yet been seen.

The US Army has not yet brought charges against the soldier suspected of committing the massacre, but Defense Secretary Leon Panetta admitted prosecutors could seek the death penalty.

"War is hell," said the official said on a trip to Asia,

"These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place. They've taken place in any war; they're terrible events. And this is not the first of those events, and it probably won't be the last."

President Obama has said the killings were "absolutely heartbreaking and tragic".

He is expected to discuss the planned withdrawal from the country in meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron in the US later on Tuesday.

Both leaders have stressed in public that there will be no rush to the exit in the wake of the recent deaths of six British soldiers and the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a renegade US serviceman.

They are expected to focus during the three-day visit on the timing of handover of the lead security responsibility throughout the country to Afghan forces during 2013.

This will allow allied troops to step back into a support role in the fight against the Taliban and begin the process of returning home by the previously-agreed target of the end of 2014.

An announcement on the date for transition to Afghan control is not expected until Nato's Chicago summit in May. Nato agreed at a previous summit in Lisbon in 2010 that home-grown forces would take the lead responsibility for security by the end of 2013, but there was some speculation today that this could be brought forward to the summer of next year.

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