Alleged US shooter in Afghan massacre identified

AFP , Saturday 17 Mar 2012

The US soldier, who killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan in an accident that soured and jeopardized the strategic relations between the Washington and Kabul, is allegedly identified

Afghan men look over the dead bodies of people killed by coalition forces in Kandahar province. (Photo: Reuters)

A US soldier who allegedly shot and killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan was held at a US military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Saturday as new details emerged about the veteran's past.

The soldier, identified Friday as US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, had served three combat tours in Iraq, and was on his first deployment to Afghanistan.

US media identified Bales, 38, as the alleged shooter, and a US official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP the reports were "correct."

Bales allegedly left his base in the southern province of Kandahar before sunrise Sunday, entered an Afghan village and opened fire, killing men, women and children. The incident has plunged US-Afghan relations into the deepest crisis since the 2001 US-led invasion.

The US military has not officially released the soldier's name, nor charged him with a crime yet.

Bales was brought to Fort Leavenworth on a flight from Kuwait late Friday, army officials said.

Several websites containing pictures and stories about Bales, including a 2009 Department of Defense page, were taken down by the time his identity was revealed Friday, but some versions of the webpages could still be accessed.

According to a cached online article, dated February 2009, from the official US army homepage, Bales participated in one of the bloodiest clashes of the Iraq war -- a January 2007 battle against a messianic Shiite sect in southern Iraq known as the Soldiers of Heaven.

In the 15-hour engagement, according to the US army article, 250 fighters were killed, all enemy -- and Bales said he was proud his unit "discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us.

"I think that's the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm's way like that," Bales said.

Separately, in a photograph appearing on cached webpage of the High Desert Warrior, an online military publication, dated March 4, Bales appears in camouflage fatigues and wearing body armor during a training exercise at an army training center in California's Mojave desert.

Outraged locals wanted Bales to stand trial in Afghanistan, but the US military quickly flew him out.

Bale's attorney Browne said that his client had been angered by a serious injury that a comrade sustained the day before the massacre, but held no animosity toward Muslims.

Bales, the father of young children, was also upset because after his extensive Iraq duty he did not believe he would be deployed to Afghanistan, according to US news reports.

The suspect appears to have been drinking the night of a shooting, a violation of US combat rules.

"Investigators have reason to believe that alcohol may have been a factor in this tragic incident," a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bales may have "just snapped" due to a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues, another unnamed official told the New York Times on Thursday.

Media reports said Bales was angry about being passed over for a military promotion, and as a civilian had brushes with the law and spent time in anger management.

He pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in 2002 and was cited for a misdemeanor hit-and-run incident in 2008, for which he paid a $250 fine and received a deferred 12-month sentence.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday again lashed out at Washington over the massacre, one day after he said international forces should leave villages in his country, potentially jeopardizing NATO operations two years before combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan.

US President Barack Obama agreed to resolve Karzai's concerns over night raids in a phone call Friday, and the two agreed to discuss complaints about NATO troops in villages.

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