(MSNBC) — WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday said he viewed the killing of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by a U.S. soldier, as seriously as if those killed had been Americans.

“The U.S. takes this as seriously as if it were our own citizens and our own children who were murdered,” Obama said at the White House.

Obama said he was directing the Pentagon to do a very thorough investigation of the weekend killings. He said the inquiry would “follow the facts” wherever they lead, and that anyone found responsible would be prosecuted fully. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the death penalty is possible if the soldier is convicted.

Obama’s message was aimed at Afghans and at Americans for whom the killings were a reminder that tens of thousands of U.S. forces are fighting in Afghanistan more than 10 years after the war began.

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