KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban threatened on Tuesday to behead U.S. troops in revenge for the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a lone American soldier in southern Afghanistan, killings that sparked condemnation and Afghan calls for an early U.S. withdrawal.
"The Islamic Emirate once again warns the American animals that the mujahideen will avenge them, and with the help of Allah will kill and behead your sadistic murderous soldiers," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an emailed statement, using the term with which the Islamist group describes itself.
A U.S. Army staff sergeant has been taken into custody, accused of walking off his base in the volatile province of Kandahar in the middle of night and gunning down at least 16 villagers, mostly women and children.
A U.S. official said the accused soldier had suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq.
The shootings triggered a protest by around 2,000 students in the eastern city of Jalalabad, the first since Sunday's attack, calling for the U.S. soldier to be prosecuted by Afghan authorities in Kandahar.
The demonstrators chanted "Death to America" and demanded Afghan President Hamid Karzai reject plans to sign a strategic pact with Washington that would allow U.S. advisers and possibly special forces to remain beyond a 2014 deadline for foreign combat troops to leave Afghanistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the shootings had only increased his determination to get American troops out of Afghanistan.
However, Obama cautioned there should not be a "rush to the exits" for U.S. forces who have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 and that the drawdown set for the end of 2014 should be done in a responsible way.
(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Paul Tait)