A US official has named the soldier who is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar province earlier this week as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.
Officials had previously said the suspect was a 38-year-old staff sergeant and that he had spent 11 years in the army. But they had refused to release his name, saying it was military policy to publicly name a suspect only after they had been charged with an offence.
Bales was flown from Kuwait to a military base in Kansas where he will be held in solitary confinement awaiting charges, the US army said.
“The Army confirms that Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Bales is being held in pre-trial confinement,” the army said in a statement on Friday.
The soldier allegedly entered three homes in two villages and killed 11 people in one single household. Nine of those killed were children. Three were women.
The suspect’s lawyer, John Henry Browne, stressed to US media that his client had been upset by a serious injury sustained by a comrade the day before the massacre, but held no animosity toward Muslims.
Browne also said that when his client heard he was being sent to Afghanistan late last year, he did not want to go. He had been wounded twice in combat in Iraq.
The sergeant’s family said they had seen no signs of aggression or anger.
“They were totally shocked,” by accounts of the massacre, Browne said. “He’s never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He’s in general very mild-mannered.”
Bales is married, with two young children.
A senior US defence official said the suspect was drinking alcohol in the hours before the attack on villagers, violating a US military order banning alcohol in war zones.
‘Want only punishment’
Afghan President Hamid Karzai complained earlier on Friday that the US military had not co-operated with the Afghan team dispatched to investigate the massacre.
“The Afghan government didn’t receive co-operation from the USA regarding the surrender of the US soldiers to the Afghan government,” Karzai said as he met distraught families of victims as well as tribal elders.
|Bales had previously been deployed and injured in Iraq
[Picture from a US military newsletter]
The leader of the delegation investigation the massacre said he wanted to ask the soldier whether he acted alone, or was part of a team, as has repeatedly been claimed by tribal elders who believe that a single gunman could not have killed so many people and in different places some distance apart.
“They killed so many of our loved ones, and do you have an answer why?” one elder asked Karzai.
The president said he did not.
“I don’t want any compensation. I don’t want money, I don’t want a trip to Hajj [pilgrimage], I don’t want a house. I want nothing but the punishment of the Americans. This is my demand, my demand, my demand and my demand,” another elder said.
The leaders insisted the soldier met no resistance because villagers were used to frequent night raids, as reported earlier by Al Jazeera.
“They bring our own Afghan soldiers to secure them as they break down our doors like animals. If you resist, they will shoot you. And if you don’t resist, they will put a hood over your head and take you to Bagram,” another elder said.
Afghan leaders have demanded the shooting suspect face a public trial in Afghanistan over the killings.
‘End of the rope’
President Karzai meets with victims’ families
Karzai once again reiterated that he would hold the US accountable and make sure the soldier was brought to justice.
“This has been going on for too long. This is by all means the end of the rope here,” Karzai told reporters. “This form of activity, this behaviour, cannot be tolerated. It’s past, past, past the time.’
He said he would relay the leaders’ concern that more than one soldier was involved in the massacre, and he would make sure the allegation was investigated.
Karzai met the elders a day after he demanded foreign forces pull back from Afghan villages. He also called for the full transfer of security responsibility to Afghan forces be completed one year ahead of the announced schedule in 2013.
Karzai said US President Barack Obama called him after the announcement.
“Yesterday, I said clearly that the Americans should leave our villages,” Karzai said. “This morning, Obama called regarding this issue. He asked, ‘Did you announce this?’ I said, ‘Yes, I announced it’.”
Karzai added: “I insist on this issue. The fight is not in the villages, not in the houses of Afghanistan.”
Obama agreed to resolve Karzai’s concerns over night raids as the two said they would discuss complaints about NATO troops in villages.