16 civilians
© AFP/Getty Images
Horrific: The bodies of an elderly Afghan man and a child killed in the Alkozai village of Panjwayi district are shown wrapped in blankets.

Zangiabad, Afghanistan - Along the road to Zangiabad, where a U.S. soldier on Sunday murdered 16 innocent Afghans, including nine children, one destroyed village follows another.

There is very little life around here. Most houses have been levelled. Burnt-out cars and blackened remains scatter the path, reminders of the many roadside bombs and suicide attacks.

The little life there is travels inside the heavily armed American military convoys that thunder up and down the road. Here, these convoys are king.

After the much-vaunted surge in 2010, the Americans turned Zangiabad - like so many other towns in southern Afghanistan - into a heavily militarized zone. Soldiers set up checkpoints every kilometre, along with a smattering of bases, in what is largely a deserted area. Three white security balloons hover above, with cameras recording every movement across the town.

It is in this atmosphere that the U.S. soldier managed to exit Camp Belambay, the local military base, and for three hours walk from house to house in the quiet of night, opening fire on residents.

Bothered by nobody, he entered at least three different houses - spread over two neighbourhoods. At one house, he piled 11 bodies together and set them on fire, according to accounts from villagers interviewed by GlobalPost.

Having recovered from the initial shock, the victims' families and friends are now wondering how it's possible that the massacre went on for as long as it did without any reaction from U.S. military personnel at the nearby base.

As the rumours and conspiracy theories fly, anger among the locals is seething. Witnesses on the edge of Zangiabad warned that it is now too dangerous here for a westerner. Villagers, they say, are too emotional and too full of hatred toward the Americans.

Camp Belambay is located in the centre of the town. Another military base, where both Afghan and American soldiers are posted, sits only a few kilometres away. But no one, from either compound, responded to the shooting spree.

For Haji Nuur Mohammed, 60, it's simply too difficult to believe that no military personnel noticed the massacre as it evolved on Sunday night.

"The shooting echoed through the silent night, and was without a doubt heard by the U.S. soldiers at the camp," Mohammed said.

Camp Belambay is barely a kilometre and a half from Mohammed's house and, especially at night, soldiers on lookout can easily see and hear everything, he said.

"Why did they not stop the killings? These soldiers at the camp spy with expensive equipment on all that happens, from the ground and from the air," he added. "It's too difficult to believe that one of their colleagues could get away with this."

A spokesperson for the International Security Assistance Force, the coalition operating in Afghanistan, said an investigation was still pending, adding that it was not yet clear what the soldiers at the camp did or didn't hear.

"Investigators are talking to people to get evidence and we simply don't know anything yet," Lt. Brian Badura said.

The lack of response is fuelling conspiracy theories that are only worsening the impact of the massacre. Several villagers here insist the shooting was part of a broader operation.

U.S. authorities, trying to squash such rumours, showed their Afghan counterparts a video of the lone soldier surrendering at the base after the massacre, according to the Associated Press.

But Mohammed Wadi, a local farmer, said a relative who lost her husband in the shooting insisted there was more than one soldier.

"She saw a couple of soldiers in her garden after one shooter entered her room, pushed her head to the floor and shot her husband," he said.

For Haji Khan Akha, a tribal elder here, the shooting was the last straw. He said the time is now up for the United States. "Were there more soldiers involved or not? I don't care," he said in an interview.

Together with other representatives of Zangiabad, he delivered a letter to the investigation team on Tuesday that demanded the U.S. leave. If not, the villagers would, the letter said.

"There is no future for the U.S. and us any more," he said.

Haji Mehboob, an elderly resident who found three of his family members wounded after the shooting, signed the letter as well. He said an apology from the U.S. is not enough anymore.

"They can invest $1 million in our area, but for who? We will be gone if they will stay," he said. "Is it worth the money to build a school for nobody?

"What can make me believe the U.S. now has the best intentions after all that has happened?"