The American soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a pre-dawn shooting rampage was named tonight as Staff Sgt Robert Bales.
He was named by a senior US official who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the investigation into the incident on Sunday that has rocked relations with Afghanistan.
Officials had said previously that the suspect was a 38-year-old staff sergeant and that he had spent 11 years in the US Army. But they had refused to release his name, saying it was military policy to identify a suspect only after he had been charged with an offence.
Bales has not yet been charged. He was being flown today from Kuwait to a detention centre at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the US military’s only maximum-security prison.
Officials say that transfer was necessary because there was no appropriate detention facility to hold Bales in Afghanistan.
The passage through Kuwait angered conservatives in the Gulf Arab nation, where the US military has thousands of troops stationed. Kuwait has become an increasingly important strategic location for US forces in the region after the American withdrawal from Iraq.
Islamist MP Waleed Tabtabaei was quoted by the Kuwait newspaper Al-Rai saying the stopover was unacceptable and the US should “stop treating Kuwait like its back yard”.
Earlier today, warning he was at the “end of the rope” over civilian casualties, Afghanistan’s president angrily accused the US of not sharing information about how the soldier allegedly shot and killed the 16 Afghans, nine of them children, in two villages.
The incident has reverberated through the already complicated relations between the US and Afghanistan, endangering talks over a long-term relationship after most US and Nato combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
In an emotional meeting with relatives of the shooting victims, President Hamid Karzai said the villagers’ accounts of the massacre were widely different from the scenario depicted by US military officials.
The relatives and villagers insisted that it was impossible for one gunmen to kill nine children, four men and three women in three houses of two villages near a US combat outpost in southern Afghanistan.
Mr Karzai pointed to one of the villagers from Panjwai district of Kandahar province and said: “In his family, in four rooms people were killed – children and women were killed – and then they were all brought together in one room and then set on fire. That, one man cannot do.”
Mr Karzai said the delegation he sent to Kandahar province to investigate the shootings did not receive the expected co-operation from the United States. He said many questions remained about what occurred, and he would be raising the questions with the US military “very loudly”.
The US military had no comment on Mr Karzai’s remarks.
The Afghan leader stressed that he wants a good relationship with the international community, but that it was becoming increasingly difficult in light of air strikes that miss their targets, leaving civilians dead and raising opposition to night operations where troops raid homes looking for insurgents.
“This has been going on for too long,” he said at the presidential palace. “You have heard me before. It is by all means the end of the rope here. ... This form of activity, this behaviour cannot be tolerated. It is past, past, past the time.”
Nato has said that night operations have been instrumental in rounding up midlevel commanders and Taliban bomb makers. The coalition says more than 90% of night operations are done alongside Afghan forces and that more than 85% are conducted without any shots fired.
The United Nations has reported that last year was the deadliest on record for civilians in the Afghan war, with 3,021 killed as insurgents ratcheted up violence with suicide attacks and roadside bombs.
The UN attributed 77% of the deaths to insurgent attacks and 14% to actions by international and Afghan troops. Nine per cent of cases were classified as having an unknown cause.
Yesterday Mr Karzai demanded that international forces pull out of rural areas because the fight was not in the villages.
He said his demand was a topic of a phone call he received today from US president Barack Obama.
“Yesterday, I said clearly that the Americans should leave our villages,” Mr Karzai said. “This morning, Obama called regarding this issue. He asked, ’Did you announce this?’ I said, ”Yes, I announced it’.“
Karzai’s office and the White House issued statements recounting the phone call.
Both said the two leaders discussed Mr Karzai’s long-standing concerns about night raids and house searches and they agreed to finish negotiations on a memorandum of understanding to resolve the issues.
They agreed to further discuss Mr Karzai’s concern about the presence of foreign troops in Afghan villages, both statements said.