US soldier formally charged for massacre
Kabul - A US soldier was formally charged on Friday with the "premeditated murders" of 17 civilians in a village in southern Afghanistan, US forces said in a statement released in Kabul.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry, was also accused of six counts of assault and attempted murder in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province earlier this month.
The massacre, in which most of the victims were women and children, is believed to be the deadliest war crime by a Nato soldier during the decade-long conflict and has further strained the already difficult relationship between Washington and Kabul.
The US military statement said that under the its code of justice, "the maximum possible punishment for a premeditated murder conviction is a dishonourable discharge from the Armed Forces, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, total forfeiture of pay and allowances, and death".
The mandatory minimum sentence is life imprisonment with the possibility of parole, it added.
There are six US servicemen currently on military death row, but no executions have been carried out for around 50 years, officials said.
Trial likely to be in US
Bales, 38, is currently being held at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and a US forces spokesperson said it was "more than likely" the trial would be held in the US, although no decision had yet been made.
The next stage will be for Bales to appear before a so-called Article 32 hearing, which will decide whether to proceed with the charges - but the military has almost four months in which hold it.
A spokesperson for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said: "We want justice and we want it as soon as possible."
Relatives of the victims have demanded the proceedings take place in Afghanistan.
A US official told AFP that the murder victims were nine children, four women and four men, with four children, one man and one woman wounded.
After the massacre it was widely reported that 16 people had been killed, but the US military spokesperson said: "The evidence available to the prosecution team indicates 17 victims of premeditated murder."
All 17 had died at or around the time of the incident, he added, denying rumours that one of the injured had succumbed in hospital, or that one of the women victims was pregnant.