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Lake Tapps resident Staff Sgt. Robert Bales suspect in Afghanistan slaughter
The aftermath of the alleged unprovoked slaughter of civilians in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan took another turn Friday when the accused attacker was revealed to be Staff Sgt. Robert Bales of Lake Tapps.
Bales, 38, is being held at Fort Leavenworth’s military prison in Kansas under suspicion of killing 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children. He met with lawyer John Henry Browne for the first time Monday. He had not been charged with a crime as of press time.
Bales was stationed at Camp Belambay—in a village region of the Kandahar province—on his fourth deployment, following three tours in Iraq.
On March 11, an Afghan soldier at the camp first noticed Bales was AWOL, according to a press statement by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. A base-wide search was initiated as a result.
During this time, it is alleged that Bales walked south toward a nearby settlement of houses, where he knocked on several doors before finally entering the household of village elder Abdul Samad and killed the people he found inside.
Eyewitness reports given by villagers to the New York Times claim two women and several children were stabbed, covered with blankets and set on fire to hide the evidence.
Bales then allegedly shifted north, back around the military base, to another village where he killed the wife, nephew, grandson and brother of Hajji-Sayed Jan, as well as allegedly killing Muhammad Dawoud, a 55-year-old farmer.
The staff sergeant returned to base after the massacre and turned himself into authorities, Panetta said.
(UPDATE: New information suggests Bales may not have disclosed the full details of the shooting; he reportedly told commanders he had killed several military-aged men for a legitimate purpose. This development suggests there are no official records of a confession in the case, as earlier reports implied.)
The attack has caused a major rift in Afghan-American relations and created ammunition for the political contingent that wants an American pull-out from the offensive against Taliban forces. Samad, who lost 11 family members in the attacks, told press he had been a supporter of the American offensive and had recently moved his family back to his home district because he believed they would be safe near a U.S. military base. Now he wants American soldiers out, he said.
The incident also sparked further instability in the region, as Taliban militants attacked an Afghan government delegation during a March 13 memorial service for the dead civilians.
Bales’ identity was kept a secret for several days following the attack.
On Friday, news crews converged on his Lake Tapps home after his identity was divulged. His wife and two children have been moved to Joint Base Lewis-McChord for their protection.
Lawyer Browne told the Associated Press on Friday that his client had witnessed his best friend lose a leg in combat the day before the attacks. He additionally divulged that his client and his family had believed he was done fighting before his fourth deployment. He had previously suffered a concussive head injury and surgery that had removed a portion of his foot.
Browne told CBS News that his client has no clear memory of the evening of the massacre. The assertion will not factor into an insanity defense if Bales is charged, Browne said, but he will argue his client had diminished capacity.
Bales is an 11-year veteran of the Army. He enlisted shortly after the 9/11 attacks.