US soldier accused over Afghan rampage named

The American soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a pre-dawn shooting rampage was named last night as Staff Sgt Robert Bales.

US soldier accused over Afghan rampage named

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 nation, where the US 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 yesterday, 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 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 US. 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.”

Runway crash

* An Afghan man who crashed a 4x4 on to the runway at Camp Bastion was working for British forces.

The interpreter was feared to have been targeting US defence secretary Leon Panetta, who was arriving at the base at the time of the incident on Wednesday.

The stolen vehicle, apparently carrying a container of fuel, burst into flames and the man later died of severe burns.

Security officers “found a gas can and a lighter” in the hijacked vehicle but no bomb components.

Camp Bastion is home to a large contingent of US as well as British forces. However, it is understood the Afghan was working with the British.

It is understood troops being addressed by Panetta were disarmed, highlighting fears of further high-profile attacks after the massacre of 16 people last Sunday.

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