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US soldier to be charged in 17 Afghan deaths

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Staff Sergeant Robert Bales accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians in Kandahar - picture from a US military newsletter A US official says Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will be charged with 17 counts of murder in the massacre of Afghan villagers.

The official says charges against Bales also include six counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault and other violations of military law. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the charges had not been announced.

The 38-year-old soldier and father of two who lives in Lake Tapps, Washington, is charged with going on a shooting rampage in two villages near his Southern Afghanistan military post in the early hours of March 11, gunning down nine Afghan children and eight adults and burning some of the victims' bodies.

The charges are to be read to Bales on Friday. He is being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and faces trial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The killings were yet another blow to US-Afghan relations, following a series of missteps, including the accidental burning of Qurans, which prompted violent protests and revenge killings American troops in the war zone.

The brutal shooting rampage also prompted renewed debate in the United States about health care for the troops, who have experienced record suicide rates and high rates of post-traumatic stress and brain injuries during repeated deployments over a decade of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bales was on his fourth tour of duty, having served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a head injury and a foot injury.

Bales' civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, has portrayed his client as a patriot, loving father and devoted husband who had been traumatized by a comrade's injury and sent into combat one too many times.

"I'm not putting the war on trial," Browne has said, "but the war is on trial.'' He added: "If I can help create a discussion about the war, that would be a great way for me to go out."

Army officials have said Bales was cleared for return to duty after his head injury.

Bales joined the Army in 2001 after a Florida investment business failed and after he had worked with a string of securities operations.

Bales and a broker at one company were hit in 2003 with a $1.5 million arbitration ruling after an elderly couple charged that their holdings were decimated.


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