Mr. Obama is said to have assured the Afghan President that a full investigation is already under way

The United States administration has gone into a hyperactive damage-control mode following the weekend rampage by a U.S. military serviceman, who allegedly shot dead 16 Afghan civilians, nine of whom were said to be children.

While he stopped short of using the word “apology”, President Barack Obama said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened by the reported killing and wounding of Afghan civilians”, and offered his condolences to their families.

Mr. Obama described the incident as “tragic and shocking”, words that were echoed by senior military officials such as International Security Assistance Force Commander General John Allen.

Mr. Obama also spoke to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday and promised a speedy response. According to a White House statement, Mr. Obama said on the phone to Mr. Karzai that his administration was committed to establishing the facts “as quickly as possible and to hold fully accountable anyone responsible”.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta also spoke to Mr. Karzai to confirm that a full investigation was “already underway... a suspect is in custody”. He condemned such violence and said the “U.S. service member... alleged to be involved [was] clearly acting outside his chain of command”. Other top military commanders, including General Allen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey spoke of their shock and sadness at the shootings. In a Facebook post, General Dempsey said, “I'm confident that General Allen and his staff are taking the appropriate steps to quickly and thoroughly investigate the circumstances of this incident.”

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