December 14, 2017
Friday, March 23, 2012

US soldier charged with 17 murders in Afghan killings

A US Army sergeant was formally charged with 17 counts of murder on Friday for killing eight adults and nine children in a pre-dawn shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan that further eroded US-Afghan relations already frayed by a decade of war.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a decorated 38-year-old veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, also was charged with six counts each of assault and attempted murder for attacking two other adults and four children in the March 11 shooting spree, a US armed forces statement said.

Premeditated murder is a capital offence under the US military justice code, so Bales could face the death penalty if convicted. He would face a mandatory minimum sentence, if convicted, of life imprisonment with eligibility for parole, the military statement said.

Bales is accused of walking off his base under cover of darkness and opening fire at civilians in their homes in at least two different villages in Panjwai district in Kandahar province. Defence officials said four men, four women and nine children were killed. A man, a woman and four children were wounded or shot at.

"The charges allege that, on or about March 11, 2012, Staff Sergeant Bales did, with premeditation, murder seventeen Afghan civilians and assaulted and attempted to murder six other civilians," a US armed forces statement said.

Initial reports from Afghanistan put the death toll at 16 people, including three women and nine children. It was not immediately clear where the extra count came from. Afghan officials were still counting 16 on Friday, and US officials said none of the wounded had died.

A US defences official said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan had never confirmed an official death toll and that evidence developed during the investigation led to the decision to bring 17 murder counts.

The killings seriously strained relations between Kabul and Washington, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanding that NATO forces leave Afghan villages and withdraw to major bases.



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