Panjwai Killings March 2012



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Afghan War News > Events > Panjwai District Killings - March 11, 2012

Early on Sunday morning - just after 3:00 a.m., March 11, 2012 a U.S. Soldier went on a killing spree in the villages of Alkozai and Balandi in Panjwai district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The villages are 500 meters away from a U.S. Special Forces base.  He killed at least 16 civilians to include women and children. The Soldier reportedly had suffered a breakdown prior to the killings of the Afghan civilians. He is reported to have slipped out of his compound in the early morning hours alone with his weapon and night vision goggles and then went on a shooting rampage in two nearby villages.  He was in military custody shortly after the shootings after handing himself over to authorities.

Panjwai District Kandahar Province Afghanistan

Map Panjwai District Kandahar Province Afghanistan
Kandahar Province
Panjwai District.  The Panjwai district is located in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan about 35 kilometers or 22 miles west of Kandahar City.  Some refer to this district as the birthplace of the Taliban. The district center is located in the northern part of the district close to Kandahar City. Learn more about the Panjwei district from WikipediA. See closeup graphic at Endnote 22.

Fight for Panjwai District.  The Canadians and later U.S. and other ISAF and Afghan security forces have been engaged in a years-long battle for control of this district.  It is the site of many battles and the Taliban have become quite skilled in the use of IEDs to cause numerous casualties. In 2010 the US made a heavy push for control of Panjwai and it now has a tenuous hold on the area.

Maps of Panjwai District. Click on the following link to view a map of Panjwai district found on a blog by a Canadian observer of the Afghan war.  See map.

Location of Incident.  According to news reports the Soldier was attached to a special operations team at Camp Belambay - a remote combat outpost. The community of Belanday was set up by Canadian forces as a "model village".  9.

Casualties.  The initial reports of casualties were nine children, three women and four men. Five people were wounded and were being treated at a military medical facility.  Eleven of the dead were from a single family. Afghan authorities are saying that 17 individuals were killed.

Apologies.  The U.S. Embassy immediately expressed its deep condolences about the incident.  Both President Obama and Defense Security Leon Panetta called President Karzai expressing condolences and promising a thorough investigation.  1.  Other government officials were quick to condemn the shootings.  2.  The White House released a statement expressing condolences to the Afghan people.  3.  In addition to the apologies the United States military also paid the families compensation for the loss of life - an amount of $50,000 for each live lost (17) and $11,000 for each villager wounded (6).  24.

Facts About the Incident. It is reported that the Soldier was attached to a special operations unit. The small conventional force (probably a squad or platoon-sized element) provides force protection to the special operations element that is conducting special operations and/or Village Stability Operations or VSO. The Soldier left his compound at 3:00 am alone.  Afghan troops spotted the Soldier leaving the combat outpost and notified their American counterparts.  The U.S. military unit, after notification of the missing Soldier, did an immediate headcount, found the Soldier was missing, and dispatched a patrol to look for him.  The Soldier entered three houses in two nearby villages and killed 16 civilians. He reportedly gathered some of the bodies, put blankets or rugs over them, and set them on fire.  On his way back to his base he encountered a U.S. patrol that was searching for him, laid down his weapon, and raised his arms in surrender.  The U.S. patrol took him into custody. 17.  The website WikipediA has a page about the incident and that can be accessed here.

SSG Robert Bales Panjwai Afghanistan
(Photo: DVIDS NTC 23 Aug 11
SPC Ryan Hallock)
The Soldier has been identified as SSG Robert Bales21.  He is a 38-year old U.S. Army Staff Sergeant attached to a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Washington. He deployed with his unit, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, Third Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division on December 3, 2011.  He is reportedly married with children.  He was assigned to the Panjwai combat outpost in February 2012.

The Soldier.  The sergeant's wife and children (ages 3 and 4) in the United States have been relocated from their home to a military base and are under the protection of the American government. 18.  Although the press has disseminated the Soldiers name widely it has not yet been officially released by the military.

Military Service of Soldier.  The Soldier enlisted in the Army two months after 9/11 on November 8, 2001. He was on his first Afghan tour and has served a total of eleven years in the Army. He served three previous tours in Iraq - 2003 for 12 months, 2006 for 15 months, and 2009 for 10 months for a total of 37 months in Iraq.

Military Decorations.  Bales awards and decorations include three Good Conduct Medals, the Iraq Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, the National Defense Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, six Army Commendation Medals, the Army Achievement Medal, two Meritorious Unit Commendations, and an Army Superiour Unit Award.  21.

Wounded in Iraq. The Soldier was wounded two times in Iraq - losing part of one foot and suffering a head wound.

Village Stability Operations or VSO Location.  There are some initial reports that say he was working as a support Soldier attached to a special operations unit conducting Village Stability Operations or VSO.  In some news reports it has stated that the Soldier was working with Village Stability Platform Belambai. Village Stability Platforms or VSPs are special forces teams (SEALs, Special Forces who are sometimes referred to as Green Berets, or Marine special operations teams or MSOTs) that are conducting Village Stability Operations or VSO.  11.

Battlefield Stress.  The Soldier is reported to have suffered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the past.  He went through advanced TBI treatment at Fort Lewis and was cleared as fit for combat duty. He reportedly experienced marital problems after his third deployment to Iraq; although this is disputed by his lawyer.  6. Some medical specialists have speculated that the Soldier may have gone "berserk".  7.  Other medical professionals are looking at battlefield stress or PTSD as a factor.  10.

Involvement of Alcohol.  There are suspicions that the Soldier had access to alcohol the night of the massacre. 16.  Alcohol is forbidden by General Order number one in Afghanistan. (The alcohol policy is questioned by some as counterproductive. 23.  It has been reported that the Soldier was drinking alcohol with two other members of his unit.  20.  Bales has reportedly told his lawyer about having some alcohol prior to the incident.  25.

Possible Steroid Use. Bales lawyer has stated that the Special Operations team that Bales was attached to provided him with steroids. 26.

Investigation.  Both the U.S. and Afghan military are conducting a joint and independent investigations of the incident.  Military officials believe the Soldier acted alone.  12.  The Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID) is in charge of the case. Once they finish their investigation they will send the findings to the chain of command, who will then make judicial process decisions.  The Pentagon confirmed on March 14, 2012 that the Soldier was flown out of Afghanistan to a more secure location on Wednesday evening, March 13th.  It was later determined that he was flown to Kuwait. He remained in Kuwait overnight and was then flown to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Investigation Report. The report of the 2012 investigation into the incident has been released. Read Report of Investigation IAW Army Regulation (AR) 15-6 - Facts and Circumstances Surronding Allegations of Shooting Afghan Civilians outside Village Stability Platform (VSP) Belambai, HQs USFOR-A SJA, 24 June 2012.

Prosecution.  The Soldier will be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or UCMJ.  A general officer will appoint an officer (probably a military lawyer) to investigate the incident under an Article 32 Investigation.

Probable Cause Hearing.  In the military justice system a suspect in a crime cannot be held for more than 48 hours without a court hearing. The military confirmed that such a hearing was held.

Preferred for Charges.  The military has seven days to prefer charges from the time of the incident.  Once the Soldier is charged he then sits through a preliminary "Article 32" hearing.  It is possible that the Article 32 hearing will be delayed if the defense argues for a psychological evaluation by a mental health panel.

Fort Leavenworth.  Bales arrived at Fort Leavenworth after spending a short time in a military detention facility in Kuwait. Bales is now being held in pre-trial confinement at the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth - a state-of-the-art, medium/minimum custody facility. The facility provides pre- and post-trial confinement for U.S. military inmates sentenced to up to five years of confinement. The facility has 464 beds but the number of inmates in pre-trial confinement at any given time typically is around 12. The U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, also at Fort Leavenworth, houses military inmates sentenced to more than five years of confinement.  21.

Taliban Reaction.  The Taliban immediately issued a statement deploring the act of the Americans.  The statement said that the Panjwai killings were the latest in a series of humiliations against the Afghan people.  4.  The Taliban did not wait very long to mount attacks - militants opened fire on senior Afghan government and military officials attending a memorial service in one of the villages where the some of the civilians were killed.  15.

Afghan Reaction.  President Karzai condemned the killings.  A number of demonstrations were staged immediately by local residents at several coalition bases.  Many Afghans have stated that they believe the killings were planned by the United States.  The killing of the civilians comes on the heels of the Koran burning incident that caused a number of riots, six ISAF deaths, and over thirty Afghan civilian deaths. The Afghanistan parliament has passed a resolution in protest of the killing spree.  In addition, the parliament has asked for a public trial of the Soldier.  14.

Kuwaiti Reaction.  Once that Kuwait learned the Soldier was in their country they raised a diplomatic uproar. They had not been informed of his arrival and registered their discontent in quick fashion. He was then flown to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

US Reaction. The media and the public have all reacted in different ways to the Panjwai killings. Some have called for speeding up the withdrawal from Afghanistan and others have criticized the military for not properly screening and training its Soldiers.  5.  There are some commentators that are using this event as "the reason to end the war".  8.  Others, mostly those who support staying in Afghanistan over the long-term, say the incident should not speed up our withdrawal.  13.

Effect of Massacre on Afghan War.  At the time of the killings the US government had been in delicate negotiations with the Afghan government on the scope of bilateral relations and future assistance and operations the US will provide and conduct after 2014.  In addition, President Obama is in a reelection bid and this may cause him to heed calls for an earlier withdrawal from those in the left wing who no longer support the war.

News Articles about the Panjwai Killings March 2012

November 3, 2015. "What It's Like to Have an American War Criminal in Your Barracks", by Kevin Maurer, The Daily Beast. The team leader of the Special Forces team that Bales was assigned to in Afghanistan is interviewed.

August 18, 2015. "Report: Bales 'erratic' before 2012 shooting rampage", Army Times.

September 3, 2014. "Army: Robert Bales' medical records to remain classified". Stars and Stripes.

June 1, 2014. "Investigations in Robert Bales case still not public by the Army". The News Tribune. Some aspects of the case is still under review.

February 9, 2014. "Could Bales have been stopped? Answers please". The Bellingham Herald. A news article on the request for results of a command climate investigation at the Special Forces camp where Bales was assigned.

July 19, 2013. "Lawyer: Soldier in Afghan case took malarial drug". The Tribune.

June 5, 2013. "Guilty Plea by Sergeant in Killing of Civilians". The New York Times.

June 2, 2013. "Relatives of murdered Afghans demand death for American sergeant." Guardian. Robert Bales may avoid death penalty with guilty plea.

May 30, 2013. "Afghanistan Shootings Fast Facts". CNN. A timeline of the Panjwai shootings.

May 16, 2013. "Afghans Tell of US Soldier's Killing Rampage". ABC News.

November 7, 2012. "Testimony: US soldier knew he killed Afghans". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

November 5, 2012. "Trial opens for Sgt. Robert Bales in Afghanistan killings". The State.

November 5, 2012. "Prosecutors in Afghanistan massacre face tough challenge". Los Angeles Times.

October 15, 2012. "Soldier held in Afghan rampage moved to Washington". Huffington Post.

April 2, 2012.  "Afghan Massacre: The Link to Lariam Remains Open". Battleland Blog.

March 30, 2012.  "PTSD Defense Won't Save Accused Shooter in Afghan Massacre". Danger Room.

March 28, 2012.  "Details Offered on How Suspect Could Have Left Afghan Base"The New York Times.

March 26, 2012.  "Unborn Afghan Child Said to Be 17th Victim of Shootings".  The New York Times.

March 26, 2012.  "Top US Commander Examines Leadership Issues in Afghan Killings"Voice of America.

March 25, 2012.  "Robert Bales Charged: Military Scrambles to Limit Malaria Drug Just After Afghanistan Massacre".  Huffington Post.

March 24, 2012.  "US says Sgt. Bales split Afghan killing spree".  The Christian Science Monitor.

March 23, 2012.  "U.S. Forces Afghanistan Prefers Criminal Charges Against Bales".  American Forces Press Service.

March 21, 2012.  "After Bales' arrest, military tried to delette him from Web".  The Kansas City Star.

March 21, 2012.  "Accused Sergeant Heads Down a Long Legal Road".  NPR.

March 20, 2012.  "Wife of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales releases statement". McClatchy.

March 20, 2012.  "Afghan shooting suspect probably was given flawed brain test". MSNBC.

March 20, 2012.  "Sgt. Bale's lawyer questions evidence".  CBS News.

March 20,2012.  "Afghan villagers say massacre was retaliation". CBS News.

March 20, 2012.  "Bales likely took a brain test riddled with problems".  Stars and Stripes.

March 19, 2012.  "Afghan villagers describe slaying's horror, differ on number involved". CNN.

March 19, 2012.  "Stunned friends recall good deeds of Afghanistan killings suspect". CNN.

March 19, 2012.  "Suspect in Afghan massacre has memory loss, lawyer says".  CNN.

March 19, 2012.  "The Sergeant in Question: A Portrait of the Accused Shooter of Kandahar".  Time Magazine.

March 18, 2012.  "Afghan killing suspect dogged by money, job strife".  The Seattle Times.

March 16, 2012.  "Staff Sgt. Robert Bales Brought to Fort Leavenworth Military Prison".  ABC News.

March 16, 2012.  "Sources ID soldier suspected in Afghan massacre".  Fox News.

March 16, 2012.  "Afghan massacre suspect identified, due at Kansas base".  Reuters.

March 16, 2012.  "Karzai lashes out at U.S. over shooting probe".  CBS News.

March 16, 2012.  "Portrait of suspect in Afghan shootings begins to emerge".  USA Today.

March 15, 2012.  "Seattle lawyer to defend soldier in Afghan massacre".  Reuters.

March 15, 2012.  "Accused G.I. 'Snapped' Under Strain, Official Says".  The New York Times.

March 15, 2012.  "Afghan massacre suspect upset at fourth tour: lawyer".  Reuters.

March 15, 2012.  "Afghanistan massacre casts pall over village operations".  USA Today.

March 15, 2012.  "Afghans angry over removal of accused US soldier".  CBS News.

March 15, 2012.  "Days after Afghanistan massacre, suspect unnamed".  Seattle PI.

March 15, 2012.  "U.S. military flies shooting suspect out of Afghanistan".  USA Today.

March 14, 2012.  "U.S. Military Flies Shooting Suspect Out of Afghanistan".  American Forces Press Service.

March 14, 2012.  "Accused US Soldier flown out of Afghanistan".  Stars and Stripes.

March 14, 2012.  "Afghan Massacre: Army Docs Say Brain Injury Could Have Sparked Attack".  Time Battleland Blog.

March 14, 2012.  "Afghan Massacre: Rush to Judgment".  Time Battleland Blog.  Comments on the mental health of Soldier committing killings.

March 13, 2012.  "Afghan shooter: Chain-of-command failure".  Col. Jack Jacobs comments on incident on MSNBC.

March 13, 2012.  "Obama Promises Full Investigation of Afghanistan Shootings".  American Forces Press Service.

March 13, 2012.  "Afghans mourn 16 killed by US soldier".  Stars and Stripes.

March 13, 2012.  "Here's Where the Afghan Massacre Was Launched". Danger Room.

March 12, 2012.  "Afghan shooter was from Stryker brigade".  The Seattle Times.

March 12, 2012.  "Alleged soldier rampage in Afghanistan a blow to special operations village security program".  The Washington Post.

March 12, 2012.  "The Afghan Massacre and the U.S. Mission".  By Max Boot in Commentary Magazine.

March 12, 2012.  "New Trial for Afghanistan Mission". Council on Foreign Relations.

March 12, 2012.  "Suspect in Afghan shooting from U.S. base with troubled past".  USA Today.

March 12, 2012.  "Afghanistan massacre: How rising tensions could cost Obama politically".  The Christian Science Monitor.

March 12, 2012.  "How Afghans will view Kandahar killing spree".  BBC News World.

March 12, 2012.  "Killing of civilians likely to increase tension between US, Afghan forces".  Stars and Stripes.

March 12, 2012.  "Afghan rampage: Suspect's motive a big unknown".  CBS This Morning.

March 12, 2012.  "When America Reflects on Why a US Soldier Killed 16 Afghan Civilians".  The Atlantic.

March 12, 2012.  "Veteran Diplomat Thomas Ruttig on Implications of Afghan Massacre".  Radio Free Europe.

March 11, 2012.  "Statement by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta on the Tragic Incident in Kandahar Province".  U.S. Department of Defense News Release.

March 11, 2012.  "Soldier who killed Afghan villagers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord".

March 11, 2012.  "U.S. soldier accused of Afghan killing spree".  CNN News.

March 11, 2012.  "US soldier's killing spree puts Afghanistan on a knife-edge".  The Guardian.

March 11, 2012.  "Army Sergeant Accused of Slaying 16 in Afghan Villages".  The New York Times.

March 11, 2012.  "ISAF deputy commander statement on civilian casualties in Kandahar".  DVIDS.

March 11, 2012.  "U.S. service member opens fire on Afghans; 16 reported dead"USA Today News.

March 11, 2012.  "What might Kandahar shootings mean for U.S.?"  CBS News.

March 11, 2012.  "American Army soldier goes on shooting rampage in Afghanistan, 16 dead: officials".  New York Daily News.

March 11, 2012.  "U.S. serviceman kills 16 in Afghan village shooting, officials say".  Los Angeles Times.

March  11, 2012.  "US soldier kills Afghan civilians in Kandahar".  BBC News Asia.

March 11, 2012.  "U.S. soldier held in deaths of 16 Afghans".  CBS News.


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1.  For more on the apologies see U.S. Apologizes for Deadly Shootings in Afghanistan.  NPR.  Accessed here on March 11, 2012.

2.  The shootings were quickly condemned by U.S. officials.  See Officials Condemn Afghanistan Shooting, Offer Condolences, American Forces Press Service, March 11, 2012.  Accessed here on March 12, 2012.

3.  See White House on Afghanistan Shooting, March 11, 2012.  Accessed here on March 12, 2012.

4.  See U.S. Warns of Reprisals As Taliban Vows Revenge for Kandahar Massacre, Radio Free Europe, March 12, 2012.  Accessed here on March 12, 2012.

5. See Lessons from the Afghanistan shooting, The Christian Science Monitor, March 12, 2012.  Accessed here on March 12, 2012.

6.  See Soldier Held in Afghan Massacre Had Brain Injury, Marital Problems, ABC News, March 12, 2012.  Accessed here on March 12, 2012.

7.  See In Afghan Civilian Killing Rampage, U.S. Soldier May Have Gone 'Berserk', Huffington Post, March 12, 2012.  Accessed here on March 12, 2012.

8.  See Afghanistan's Haditha: An Atrocity to End the War, The Nation.  Accessed here on March 12, 2012.

9.  See U.S. soldier's rampage hurts 'model village', The Montreal Gazette, March 12, 2012.  Accessed here on March 12, 2012.

10.  For more on battlefield stress see Battlefield Stress Could Have Triggered Afghan Massacre, Time Battleland, March 12, 2012.  Accessed here on March 12, 2012.

11.  For more on the VSO location see Afghan killings mar special operations outreach, Boston Globe, March 12, 2012.  Accessed here on March 12, 2012.

12.  See Officials Believe Gunman Acted Alone, Press Secretary Says, American Forces Press Service, March 12, 2012.  Accessed here on March 13, 2012.

13.  See McCain: Afghan shootings shouldn't hasten US withdrawal, The Hill, March 11, 2012.  Accessed here on March 13, 2012.

14.  See Afghans call for soldier's public trial, Politico, March 12, 2012.  Accessed here on March 13, 2012.

15.  See Taliban fire at delegates visiting Afghan massacre site, The Guardian, March 13, 2012.  Accessed here on March 13, 2012.

16.  See Investigators probing whether alcohol a factor in Afghanistan shootings, Security Clearance CNN, March 13, 2012.  Accessed here on March 13, 2012.

17.  See Afghan official: Video shows soldier surrendering, Associated Press on Google, March 14, 2012.  Accessed here on March 14, 2012.

18.  For info on the Soldier's family see Afghan shooter: Chain-of-command failure,, March 13, 2012.  Accessed here on March 14, 2012.

19.  For info on the judicial process see A look at military justice in Afghan killing case, Boston Globe, March 13, 2012.  Accessed here on March 14, 2012.

20.  For source on use of alcohol see Accused G.I. 'Snapped' Under Strain, Official Says, The New York Times, March 15, 2012.  Accessed here on March 15, 2012.

21.  DoD identified the Soldier as Robert Bales on March 17, 2012.  See Army Identifies Afghanistan Shooting Suspect, American Forces Press Service, March 17, 2012.  Accessed here on March 18, 2012.

22. See a graphic of the vicinity of attacks at A shooting rampage outside the wire, The Washington Post, March 13, 2012.  Accessed here on March 18, 2012.

23. For more on discussions about changing the alcohol policy see Robert Bales and the Case for a Measured Approach to Alcohol in Combat, The New York Times "At War" Blog, March 23, 2012.  Accessed here on March 23, 2012.

24.  For payments to villages see U.S. pays 'blood money' to victims of Afghan massacre, The Washington Post, March 25, 2012.  Accessed here on March 25, 2012.

25.  See Bales tells lawyer of stress-disorder symptoms, 'two sips' of liquor, The Seattle Times, March 30, 2012.  Accessed here on March 30, 2012.

26. For info on special operations providing Bales with steroids see "Special ops troops gave accused killer alcohol, steroids". CNN, May 30, 2013.


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