U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the suspect in the killings of at least 16 Afghan civilians, arrived yesterday at the U.S. military’s prison in Kansas, the Army said.
The Pentagon for the first time named the 38-year-old sniper, without indicating he has yet to be charged in the case. After being held in Afghanistan and then Kuwait, Bales was flown to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he will be placed in special housing in his own cell, according to an e-mailed Army statement.
Women and children were among the victims of the March 11 shootings in two villages in southern Afghanistan. The attacks threaten to erode U.S.-Afghan relations, drain remaining U.S. and European popular and political support for the war and add pressure to speed troop withdrawals.
Bales was on his first tour in Afghanistan after three in Iraq. He serves in the Army’s 2-3 Infantry, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
Bales served a total of 37 months during his three tours in Iraq and has been awarded three Army Good Conduct medals, six Army Commendation medals and two Meritorious Unit Commendations, according to the Army’s statement. He completed a two-year associate degree, qualified as a sniper in 2008, and also completed a Warrior Leaders Course that year, the Army said.
He arrived in Afghanistan on Dec. 3 after his last Iraq tour ended in June 4, 2010. His time at home was about average for troops who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Increasing such “dwell time” has been an Army goal since the Iraq war began.
The soldier’s Seattle lawyer, John Henry Browne, described his client at a news conference on March 15 without naming him. He portrayed a soldier who was “in general mild-mannered” with “a very strong marriage” and two children. Browne, who couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday, was quoted by the Associated Press as confirming that Bales is his client.
After sustaining a concussive head injury and losing part of a foot during his tours in Iraq, the soldier and his family were disappointed when he was sent to Afghanistan in December, Browne said.
“It would be fair to say that he and the family were not happy that he was going back,” Browne told reporters yesterday at his office in Seattle. “The brigade was told that they would not be redeployed.”
A soldier in the same unit in southern Afghanistan had been “gravely injured” a day before the shootings, an incident that affected everyone in the unit, Browne said.
The stress of a fourth combat deployment, a troubled marriage and alcohol use may have triggered the killing spree, according to a U.S. official briefed on the case who spoke on condition of anonymity during the investigation.
Browne denied that alcohol use or domestic discord played a role.
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