Soldier accused of Afghanistan massacre ID'd

The U.S. soldier accused of massacring 16 Afghan civilians in a shooting spree has been identified as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

Flown to U.S. military prison

News crews gather as cars pass by the home of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in Lake Tapps, Wash., on March 16, 2012. Bales is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in Afghanistan. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

The soldier accused in the killing of 16 Afghan civilians has been identified as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, of Lake Tapps, Wash., his attorney confirmed late Friday.

Reporters swarmed a neighbourhood in a rural, wooded community about 60 kilometres south of Seattle, as attorney John Henry Browne confirmed the identity of the suspect. 

Five days after the shooting, a senior U.S. official first confirmed Friday it was Bales, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation into an incident that has roiled relations with Afghanistan. Military officials had said throughout the week that it was policy not to release the name until charges were filed.

Lawyer John Henry Browne has been asked to defend the U.S. soldier accused of shooting 16 villagers in Afghanistan. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Kassie Holland, who lives next door, said she would often see Bales playing with his two kids and the family together at the modern split-level home.

"My reaction is that I'm shocked," she said. "I can't believe it was him. There were no signs. It's really sad. I don't want to believe that he did it."

"He always had a good attitude about being in the service. He was never really angry about it. When I heard him talk, he said, it seemed like, yeah, that's my job. That's what I do. He never expressed a lot of emotion toward it."

Flown back to the U.S.

Bales has not yet been charged. He was flown Friday from Kuwait to a military detention center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the military's only maximum-security prison. He arrived there late Friday night.

Military officials say the soldier received sniper training and is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is based at Lewis-McChord and has been dispatched to Iraq three times since 2003.

"I kind of sympathize for him, being gone, being sent over there four times," Beau Britt, who lives across the street. "I can understand he's probably quite wracked mentally, so I just hope that things are justified in court. I hope it goes OK."    Browne said his client was injured twice while deployed to Iraq. He suffered a concussion in a vehicle accident caused by an improvised explosive device, and sustained a battle-related injury requiring surgery that removed part of one foot. Browne said his client was "highly decorated."   Browne said when the 11-year veteran heard he was being sent to Afghanistan late last year, he did not want to go.    "He wasn't thrilled about going on another deployment," Browne said. "He was told he wasn't going back, and then he was told he was going."

Bales is accused of slipping out of his base before dawn on Sunday and sneaking into the homes of three Afghan families, shooting 16 of them dead and burning some of the bodies. Another five people were wounded.

Browne said that the day before the rampage, the soldier saw his friend's leg blown off. Browne said his client's family provided him with details of the injury to another U.S. soldier. The details have not been independently verified.

Karzai lashes out

Earlier in the day, Afghan President Hamid Karzai lashed out at the United States, saying he is at the "end of the rope" because of the lack of U.S. co-operation in the massacre investigation.

In a meeting with families of the 16 Afghan civilians killed Sunday in southern Afghanistan, Karzai said the delegation he sent to investigate the shootings did not receive the co-operation the Afghans expected from American officials.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai speaks during a meeting at the presidential palace in Kabul Friday with family members of civilians killed by a U.S. soldier in Kandahar last week. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

During the meeting, the relatives of the dead insisted there must have been more than one shooter and argued that they did not receive all the information they asked for from Americans.

Previously, Afghan officials had said that there was surveillance video that was kept from them.

"This has been going on for too long. This is by all means the end of the rope here," Karzai told reporters at the end of the meeting.

"This form of activity, this behaviour, cannot be tolerated. It's past, past, past the time," Karzai added.

The Afghan leader stressed that he wants a good relationship with the U.S. but that it is becoming increasingly difficult. He insisted that the U.S. needs to respect Afghan culture and laws.

On Thursday, the American campaign in Afghanistan suffered two punishing blows as the Taliban announced they were breaking off talks with the U.S. while Karzai tried to speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces and said the international forces should pull out of rural areas.

Afghan officials said Karzai wanted the pullback to start now, but U.S. officials said he did not tell Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that it should happen immediately.

Karzai said President Barack Obama called him earlier Friday seeking to confirm the Afghan leader had requested the pullout of international troops from bases in rural areas such as the one where the accused U.S. soldier was stationed.

Leave the villages

"Yesterday, I said clearly that the Americans should leave our villages," Karzai said. "This morning, Obama called regarding this issue. He asked, 'Did you announce this?' I said, "Yes, I announced it.'"

"I insist on this issue," Karzai said, adding: "The fight is not in the villages, not in the houses of Afghanistan."

The Taliban said they were calling off the talks because U.S. had failed to follow through on its promises and made new demands. The militant group also said the U.S. falsely claimed that it had entered into multilateral negotiations that included the Afghan government.

Karzai also said Friday that the Taliban should be talking directly with his government.

The moves represent new setbacks to America's strategy for ending the 10-year-old war at a time when support for the conflict is plummeting. Part of the U.S. exit strategy is to transfer authority gradually to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban into political discussions with the Afghan government, though it's unclear that there has been any progress since January.

With files from CBC News