WASHINGTON — The US soldier who allegedly shot and killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan was identified Friday by a US official, and a picture emerged of a battle-hardened veteran who saw tough battles in Iraq.
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.”
On Friday the soldier was en route from Kuwait to the US military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after Sunday’s attack in the southern province of Kandahar, in which mainly women and children were killed, plunged US-Afghan relations into a deep crisis.
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.
Bales participated in one of the bloodiest clashes of the Iraq war — a January 2007 battle in southern Iraq against a messianic Shiite sect known as the Soldiers of Heaven, according to a cached online article, dated February 2009, from the official US army homepage.
Bales is quoted in the article describing the battle, in which 250 militia members were killed, but no US soldiers.
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.
The decorated soldier’s civilian attorney, 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.
“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.
“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” another unnamed official told the New York Times on Thursday.
Afghan leaders have demanded the shooting suspect face a public trial in Afghanistan over the killings.
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.
In a phone conversation between the leaders Friday, US President Barack Obama agreed to resolve Karzai’s concerns over night raids as the two said they would discuss complaints about NATO troops in villages.
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