KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- None of the Afghans who witnessed the March 11 massacre of 16 villagers has reported personally seeing more than one shooter, despite claims that many U.S. soldiers took part in the killing, two Afghan officials said Wednesday.
Afghan villagers disputed U.S. statements that only one shooter was involved in the killings in the southern Panjwai district. Afghan investigators heard villagers claim more than a dozen Americans were involved.
The two Afghan officials told The Associated Press that accounts of many gunmen were based on hearsay.
"To my knowledge, everybody in the villages said only that somebody had told them that they had seen several foreign troops in the villagers where the shootings occurred," said Fazal Mohammad, the top government official for Panjwai district.
"But nobody personally said that they had seen a group of troops in this incident. The evidence collected from the villagers was not enough to confirm that there was more than one shooter. I personally met many different people there, but I never found a single person who personally saw a number of foreign troops."
Mohammad also said that he suspected that insurgents may have been trying to take advantage of the shooting incident.
"It is possible that some people were passing around information," he said. "It is time for Afghanistan to calm down and not let the insurgents take advantage of this case. They want foreign troops to leave such areas like this so they can hold those areas. We should be aware of their intentions and try to help the government, not the insurgents."
Sardar Mohammad Nazari, chief of police for Panjwai district, also said that he never found one person who had seen a group of foreign troops with their own eyes.
U.S. officials launched a search party after the alleged shooter, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, went missing, and the Afghans could have confused the searchers for assailants.
Bales was taken into custody following the killings and was transferred to the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
In Washington, the Pentagon disputed a claim by villagers that there was a roadside bombing the day before the shooting attack, wounding some soldiers, and the shooting spree was retaliation.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, told reporters that U.S. officials had no indication that such a bombing happened.
He also disputed a claim by villagers that U.S. troops lined them up against a wall after the roadside bombing and told them that they would pay a price for it.