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US Soldier To Be Charged With Murder Over Afghan Civilian Massacre

The U.S. soldier accused of killing unarmed Afghan civilians in a shooting rampage is to be charged with murder as well as assault and a string of other offenses, media reports citing unnamed officials said late on Thursday.

Although the charges against Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is yet to be announced, they reportedly include 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault as well as dereliction of duty and other violations of military law.

Bales was originally accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers, nine children and seven adults, but it was changed to 17 on Thursday by adding one more adult to the tally. Authorities are yet to disclose why the death toll in the shooting incident was raised.

The charges against Bales are due to read out on Friday at a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he is being held in solitary confinement after being flown out of Afghanistan shortly after the shooting incident. He faces trial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The latest development comes a day after Seattle defense attorney John Henry Browne, Bales' lawyer, told reporters that there was no forensic evidence to link his client with the massacre, and added that he expected bales to be charged with "homicide and a bunch of other charges."

Browne said the case could stretch for more than two years. He also dismissed reports suggesting Bales and his wife were struggling to make the payments on two properties they had bought, insisting that his client's financial problems were irrelevant to the case. He also rejected reports that his client was drunk at the time of the shootings. The lawyer said he planned to travel to Afghanistan to gather his own evidence.

According to the U.S. version of events, Bales walked out of his military base in Panjwai district around 03 a.m. local time on March 11, and gunned down civilians in four houses in two neighboring villages in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. The rogue soldier, who is said to have been suffering from a nervous breakdown, then surrendered to U.S. military authorities at the base.

Nevertheless, Afghan officials have questioned the U.S. claim that only one of its soldiers was involved in the incident, pointing out that the accounts of villagers targeted in the shooting indicate that multiple U.S. soldiers took part in the massacre.

Despite the demand for trying the accused publicly in Afghanistan, the U.S. military flew him to Kuwait on March 14 and later ferried him to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he is being held in pre-trial confinement.

The deadly shooting spree has soured U.S.-Afghan relations, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanding the immediate withdrawal of NATO and U.S. forces from villages in the war-torn country. The killings had triggered an outrage across Afghanistan, with thousands taking to the streets demanding justice. The Taliban pledged to avenge the killings and called off peace talks with the U.S.

The shooting took place amid tension triggered by the burning of copies of the Holy Koran at the U.S. airbase in Bagram last month. The incident had evoked widespread protests with attacks on international troops across Afghanistan, resulting in the death of at least 30 people.

by RTT Staff Writer

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