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US soldier admits to killing Afghan civilians

March 17, 2012

WASHINGTON, March 17: The US Army on Saturday identified the American soldier, who killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan last weekend, as a 38-year old Iraq war veteran, Robert Bales.

A Pentagon press release said Staff Sergeant Bales was from Fort Jensen Beach, Florida, although he grew up in the Cincinnati area. He has two young children who now live in Washington state with their mother.

US Defence officials told NBC News that Sergeant Bales admitted his actions to fellow soldiers just before he was taken into custody.

A US helicopter first spotted Sergeant Bales on his stomach in a field, but he stood up and walked to the base where he was asked about the shootings at the village.

The officials said Sergeant Bales told interrogators, "I did it." He was disarmed and taken into custody. He then asked for a lawyer and has refused to talk ever since.

The US Army reported that Sergeant Bales was accused of leaving his base in Kandahar province in the middle of the night on Sunday and shooting Afghans in their homes in nearby villages.

The US army said the accused American soldier was an infantryman, a trained sniper and held three good conduct medals.

Although Afghan lawmakers wanted to try him in Afghanistan, US authorities flew Sergeant Bales to Kuwait on March 14 and then brought him to a prison facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on Friday.

Gen Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed during a television interview on Friday night that Sergeant Bales was now in the United States.

Army officials said the soldier was held in pre-trial confinement at the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility, in Kansas.

The American Forces Press Service reported that the facility provides pre- and post-trial confinement for US military inmates sentenced to up to five years of confinement. It has 464 beds but the number of inmates in pre-trial confinement at any given time typically is around 12.

Sergeant Bales is held in special housing in his own cell but can go outside the cell "for hygiene and recreational purposes," the army said. He will also be allowed religious support if he asks for it.

The US Army said Mr Bales enlisted two months after 9/11 on Nov. 8, 2001, and was with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

According to Mr Bales' service record, he had an associate's degree from a 2-year college and his military training included warrior and advanced leaders courses, sniper training and combative levels 1 and 2.

He was deployed three times to Iraq -- in 2003 for 12 months, in 2006 for 15 months and in 2009 for 10 months.

He was deployed to Afghanistan on Dec 1.

Besides three good conduct medals, Sergeant Bales' awards and decorations include two Iraq Campaign Medal Stars, the National Defence Service Medal, combat and expert Infantry Badges, six Army Commendation Medals, the Army Achievement Medal, two Meritorious Unit Commendations and an Army Superior Unit Award.

US media depicted a conflicting portrait of Sergeant Bales, some showing him as a family man, eager to help Iraqi citizens during his deployment there.

But Sergeant Bales also had troubles with the law, including an arrest for assault. His wife, Karilyn, wrote in a blog last year that they were disappointed Mr Bales did not get a military promotion despite having served in Iraq.

And shocked neighbors in Lake Tapps, Washington, where the family lived, said they knew Mr Bales as a friendly family man.

Public records, however, showed that Mr Bales was arrested in Tacoma, Washington, in August 2002 for assault on a girlfriend, not the woman he later married. US Defence officials also told NBC News that alcohol "may" have been a contributing factor in the shooting spree.

Sergeant Bales suffered some minor traumatic brain injury in Iraq in 2010 and had received post-traumatic stress disorder treatment.

Mr Bales' lawyers indicated they may use this in his defence during the trial.