Soldier expected to be charged Friday in Afghan killings

Fri Mar 23, 2012 2:35pm EDT
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By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Army staff sergeant is expected to be formally charged on Friday with 17 counts of murder for a pre-dawn shooting rampage that killed men, women and children in Afghanistan, damaging U.S.-Afghan relations already frayed by 10 years of war.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a 38-year-old decorated combat veteran, is accused of walking off his base in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan two weeks ago and opening fire at civilians in at least two different villages.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bales would be charged with 17 counts of murder. Initial reports from Afghanistan put the death toll at 16 people, including nine children and three women, with five other Afghans being wounded.

A defense official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the discrepancy between the reported 16 deaths and the 17 murder charges was not the result of a wounded person dying.

The official said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan had not previously specified an official death toll in the incident and that evidence developed in the course of the investigation led to a decision to pursue 17 murder counts against Bales.

Navy Captain John Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, told a briefing on Friday he expected charges to be preferred against Bales "soon, perhaps as early as today." He declined to discuss the details of the charges.

"The preferral of charges is the first step here. It is the notification to the accused of the charges that are being levied against him or her by the government," he said. "It's the first step in this process. I am not going to discuss here today the specifics of those charges."

A defense official said details of the charges would likely be released on Friday once the formal charging documents had been authenticated and signed by both the U.S. military convening authority in Afghanistan as well as Bales and his attorney.   Continued...

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, (R) 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, is seen during an exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, in this August 23, 2011 DVIDS handout photo. REUTERS/Department of Defense/Spc. Ryan Hallock/Handout