U.S. army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will be charged with 17 counts of murder, assault and a string of other offences in the massacre of Afghan villagers as they slept, a U.S. official says.   

The charges signed against Bales 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, the official said 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, Wash., 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 U.S.-Afghan relations, following a series of missteps, including the accidental burning of Qur'ans, which prompted violent protests and revenge killings American troops in the war zone.

Accused was on 4th tour of duty  

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's civilian attorney, 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.

New allegations surface

A second incident involving alcohol and violence surfaced Thursday in the background of Bales — a 2008 allegation that he thrust a woman's hand to his crotch and fought with her boyfriend.   A Pierce County Sheriff's Department incident report obtained by The Associated Press quoted a woman claiming Bales told her she was beautiful, then "pulled her hand to his crotch" outside a Tacoma, Wash., bowling alley. The deputy described Bales as "extremely intoxicated."   The report says Bales began punching and kicking the woman's boyfriend. When the boyfriend raised one leg to stop the kicking, Bales grabbed the leg and pushed him to the pavement, according to the incident report.   Each person involved in the incident was drunk, to the point of mumbling and slurring their speech, according to the deputy's account.

Browne, the attorney representing Bales in the Afghan killings case, declined to discuss the assault accusations because he said it has no bearing on the Afghanistan matter.   Details of the incident follow a report this week that Bales had been arrested in 2002 for a drunken assault of a security guard at a Tacoma casino. That charge was dismissed after Bales completed 20 hours of anger management training.    U.S. military officials say Bales was drinking on a southern Afghanistan base before he crept away to two villages overnight March 11, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine were children. Eleven belonged to one family.

Records show that Bales was not charged in the 2008 incident at the Paradise Bowl.   Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist said his office considered the case for a possible charge of assault in the fourth degree but determined that it did not meet charging standards. He didn't know the specific reason behind that decision but said he suspected it was because there were no injuries, lots of alcohol and no evidence as to who started the scuffle.   Lindquist also noted that the incident report said the couple initially told authorities they didn't want to press charges, something he said prosecutors would take into consideration.   Reached Thursday, the woman involved, Myra Jo Irish, agreed with the officer's narrative in the incident report, but denied his characterization that she and her boyfriend were intoxicated. 

"I was just basically in shock that some stranger would walk up and do that," Irish said.   Irish said that Bales was with a group that pleaded with her not to file charges.   They told her Bales was drunk and if she "could be so kind" not to file an official report. "His friend said he was married and in the service, and it would destroy him" if she filed charges," Irish said.   Irish said she met with a sheriff's deputy and gave him a written statement at the bowling alley. The deputy who took the report did not return a phone call seeking comment.    In the 2002 casino incident, the police report says two security guards told Bales to leave, but he picked up a trash can lid and rushed the guards, punching one in the chest before they tackled him.   Also in 2008, Bales was involved in a hit-and-run accident in which records show he ran bleeding in military clothes into the woods. He told police he fell asleep at the wheel and paid a fine to get the charges dismissed, according to court records.   In 1998, Bales was cited for possessing alcohol at a Florida beach, though the citation was later dropped.    Bales's attorney has said his client was injured twice while deployed to Iraq.   On Feb. 1, he was assigned to a base in the Panjwaii District, near Kandahar, to work with a village stability force that pairs special operations troops with villagers to help provide neighbourhood security.   Browne has said Bales has a sketchy memory of the night of the shootings.