US soldier charged with 17 Afghanistan murders

US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will be charged with 17 counts of murder, assault and a string of other offences in the massacre of Afghan villagers as they slept.

US officials yesterday revealed that the charges include 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault as well as dereliction of duty and other violations of military law.

The 38-year-old soldier and father of two who lives in Lake Tapps, Washington, will be charged with going on a shooting rampage in two villages near his Southern Afghanistan military post in the early hours of March 11, gunning down nine Afghan children and eight adults and burning some of the victims’ bodies.

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The charges, due to be read to Bales on Thursday. reflect the change that increased the number of Afghans killed in the shooting spree from 16, which was widely reported for the past week, to 17.

Initial confusion about the number of dead arose because some may have been buried before US military officials arrived at the scene. Six Afghans were also wounded in the attack.

Bales is being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and faces trial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

He was on his fourth tour of duty, having served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a head injury and a foot injury. He was assigned to the 2nd battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker brigade combat team, of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

Lawyer John Henry Browne has portrayed his client as a patriot, loving father and devoted husband who had been traumatised by a comrade’s injury and sent into combat one time too many.

Reports have varied about what exactly Bales saw relating to the comrade’s injury. A US defence official said that while it is likely that a soldier from Bales’ unit, based in Kandahar Province, suffered a leg wound a day or two before the March 11 shootings, there is no evidence that Bales witnessed it or the aftermath, or that it played any role in his alleged actions.