US soldier charged with 17 murders in Afghan killings

KABUL,  (Reuters) – A U.S. Army sergeant was formally charged with 17 counts of murder yesterday for killing eight adults and nine children in a pre-dawn shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan that further eroded U.S.-Afghan relations already frayed by a decade of war.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a decorated 38-year-old veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, also was charged with six counts each of assault and attempted murder for attacking two other adults and four children in the March 11 shooting spree, a U.S. armed forces statement said.

Premeditated murder is a capital offence under the U.S. military justice code, so Bales could face the death penalty if convicted. He would face a mandatory minimum sentence, if convicted, of life imprisonment with eligibility for parole, the military statement said.

Bales is accused of walking off his base under cover of darkness and opening fire at civilians in their homes in at least two different villages in Panjwai district in Kandahar province. Defence officials said four men, four women and nine children were killed. A man, a woman and four children were wounded or shot at.

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