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U.S. Soldier Charged With Killing 17 Afghans

  • RFE/RL

U.S. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales (left)

U.S. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales (left)

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, six counts of attempted murder, and other charges in connection with a shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan earlier this month.
Bales, 38, would face a minimum of life imprisonment with the chance of parole, but could face the death penalty if convicted.
He is currently in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in the U.S. state of Kansas, where he has been held since last week.
The sergeant allegedly left his base in Kandahar Province before dawn on the morning of March 11 and shot 17 Afghan civilians, including nine children, while they slept in their beds, before burning some of the bodies. He was originally suspected of killing 16 villagers before the U.S. military raised the figure.
The incident has caused outrage in Afghanistan at a time when Kabul and Washington are working through the sticking points of an agreement to chart their relations after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in 2014.

Afghan officials have reportedly asked the United States for some role in the criminal proceedings against Bales, perhaps as observers. Some parliamentarians and relatives of the victims have demanded that Bales be turned over to the Afghan justice system.
The Taliban, who have waged a decade-long insurgency since they were toppled after the U.S. invasion, told AFP that they planned to speed up attacks on U.S. forces as revenge.
Speaking two days after the shooting, U.S. President Barack Obama called the incident "heartbreaking" and said it does not reflect American values or represent the U.S. military.

"I've directed the Pentagon to make sure that we spare no effort in conducting a full investigation. I can assure the American people and the Afghan people that we will follow the facts wherever they lead us, and we will make sure that anybody who was involved is held fully accountable with the full force of the law," Obama said.
U.S. officials are also working to offer monetary compensation to the families of the shooting victims.
The incident came amid already heightened tensions and anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan after the accidental burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO military base in February.
Some in Washington have since renewed calls for an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.
That appears unlikely after the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, told a Congressional hearing this week that favored keeping "significant combat power” in place in Afghanistan in 2013, with 68,000 U.S. troops on the ground.
The Bales case has drawn added attention in the United States to the debate over mental-health care for troops.
Bales was on his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan, having served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered head injuries.
Earlier on March 23, Bales' civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, said that he believes the government will have a hard time proving its case and that his client's mental state will be an important issue.
With AFP and AP reports

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