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Updated: March 17, 2012 23:03 IST

U.S. military identifies 'killer' soldier

Narayan Lakshman
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Staff Sgt. Robert Bales (left), in a Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System photo.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales (left), in a Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System photo.

The U.S. military has not named him officially. Pentagon says its policy is to wait until a soldier is charged. He faces possible criminal charges, Pentagon officials said.

The U.S. army has identified the soldier allegedly behind the killing of 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales (38) from Lake Tapps near the Tacoma area of Washington state.

Bales is currently being held in solitary pre-trial confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, home to another well-known prisoner, Private Bradley Manning, accused of supplying government data to WikiLeaks. On Friday officials confirmed that Bales had been flown out of Kuwait, even as Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed outrage at his removal from Afghan soil.

The Staff Sergeant, who was said to have gone on a shooting spree after walking off his base in Kandahar Province’s Panjwai district, is a father of two. According to reports, Bales’ wife and children were moved from their home in Lake Tapps to Joint Base Lewis-McChord earlier this week, for their safety.

With reports suggesting that in most cases the victims of the Kandahar attack had either been shot or stabbed and then set on fire, passions have run high in Afghanistan since last weekend and Mr. Karzai openly accused the U.S. of not adequately cooperating on an investigation into the killings.

While the Obama administration has indicated that this would not set back U.S. plans to draw down troops by 2014, there is a strong perception that combined with the Koran-burning incident last month U.S.-Afghan relations are in a tail-spin.

Meanwhile Bales’ attorney, John Henry Browne, said that he had joined the U.S. Army shortly after the 9/11 attacks and was assigned to the Third Stryker Brigade in the Second Infantry Division. The New York Times quoted an unnamed U.S. government official who discussed possible motives for the violent killings saying that Bales had been drinking alcohol before the killings and that he might have had marital problems.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” the official added. Mr. Browne however dismissed allegations of alcohol and domestic issues, attributing Bales’ stress to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to reports.

Describing PTSD as a mitigating factor Mr. Browne was quoted as saying “It is commonly used in military defence.” He noted that Bales was unhappy about returning to combat after being wounded twice in Iraq.

According to the U.S. Army, Bales spent 37 months on three separate deployments in Iraq between 2003 and 2010, and Mr. Browne said Bales “had seen a comrade's leg blown off the day before the massacre.”

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