Afghan Shooting Suspect Identified, Moved To United States

The U.S. military has identified the suspect in the shootings last Sunday in Afghanistan:

The military on Friday identified the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers earlier this week as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a 38-year-old father of two who had been injured twice in combat over the course of four deployments and had, his lawyer said, an exemplary military record.

The release of Sergeant Bales’s name, first reported by Fox News, ended an extraordinary six-day blackout of public information about him from the Pentagon, which said it withheld his identity for so long because of concerns about his and his family’s security.

An official said on Friday that Sergeant Bales had been transferred from Kuwait to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he had a cell to himself in the medium-security prison there. His wife and children were moved from their home in Lake Tapps, Wash., east of Tacoma, onto Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his home base, earlier this week.

Military officials say Sergeant Bales, who has yet to be formally charged, left his small combat outpost in the volatile Panjwai district of Kandahar Province early in the morning last Sunday, walked into two nearby villages and there shot or stabbed 16 people, 9 of them children.

Little more than the outlines of Sergeant Bales’s life are publicly known. His family lived in Lake Tapps, a community about 20 miles northeast of his Army post. NBC News reported that he was from Ohio, and he may have lived there until he joined the Army at 27. Sergeant Bales’s Seattle-based lawyer, John Henry Browne, said several members of the sergeant’s family moved to Washington after he was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Mr. Browne said the sergeant joined the Army right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and then spent almost all of his career at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where he was part of the Third Stryker Brigade in the Second Infantry Division, named after the armored Stryker vehicles.

The killings have severely undermined longstanding NATO efforts to win support from villages in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, and have shaken relations with the government of President Hamid Karzai, who this week told Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who was on a visit to Afghanistan, that he wanted American forces out of villages by next year.

We will learning more about Sgt. Bailes over the coming weeks and months I’m sure, but there are many questions that have already arisen ranging from the treatment of the aftermath of Traumatic Brain Injuries by the military to the serial redeployments that many troops experienced during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. There’s also the question of how Bailes was able to get off-base, alone and armed, in the middle of the night and traverse the three miles to the village where the massacre took place. Based on some reports, it seems that there is surveillance blimp footage of at least his capture so, didn’t anyone notice that he had left, and if so had they given any thought to investigating what he was up to?

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. I thought the early reports were that Afghan sentries saw him go and reported it. A search ensued.

    It would seem reasonable that Afghan sentries would not say “stop or I’ll shoot” to an American, and so given that arraignment, sure he could get off base.

  2. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    Even without TBI, I can’t help but think four year-long deployments would mess up anyone’s head.

  3. Ben Wolf says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy: Bit of a double standard that no one ever questions Tlaiban fighters’ mental state when they kill civilians. They automatically get labelled Evil Monster Terrorists, so why shouldn’t this guy get the same treatment?

  4. Ben Wolf says:

    @Ben Wolf: Tlaiban = Taliban

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been criticized for not properly diagnosing TBI and PTSD and I’m sure that Bailes lawyer will point that out to everyone.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    More info here.
    PTSD diagnoses at Lewis-McChord reexamined

    It is home base not only of the soldier accused in this weekend’s shooting of civilian women and children in Afghanistan, but also Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who was recently convicted of killing Afghan civilians for sport.

    It’s also the base of Iraq War veteran Benjamin Colton Barnes, the suspect in the killing of a Mount Rainier National Park ranger on New Year’s Day. (Barnes’ body was later found in the park.) “Beltway Sniper” John Allen Muhammad – executed in 2009 for killing 10 people around Washington, D.C. – was also stationed at Lewis-McChord.

    (CBS/AP) – March 12, 2012 – Diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder at an Army Medical Center located at the home base of the soldier accused of fatally shooting 16 Afghan civilians has been under scrutiny by Army investigators.

    The forensic psychiatry unit at Madigan Army Medical Center had come under fire for reversing diagnoses of PTSD for nearly 300 service members during the past five years. The head of Madigan Healthcare System was recently placed on administrative leave.

    The Army initiated an investigation following an Army ombudsman’s memo indicating that hospital officials were encouraging psychiatrists to limit diagnoses of PTSD in order to reduce costs.

  7. Bennett says:

    As a veteran of GWOT, I can sympathize with whatever horrors this guy experienced. And while I don’t suffer from it, I have seen friends go through hell dealing with the way the military and VA go about dealing with PTSD and TBI. If there could be any silver lining to this mess, maybe it will shake up some of the mental health problems out there (though it has gotten much better in the past 5 years than it was at the start of GWOT).

    That being said, 4 deployments and a TBI are still not an excuse for murder. A root cause perhaps, but this guy needs to either be shot or never see the light of day.

  8. Ron Beasley says:

    @Bennett: I’m certainly not willing to excuse him but he should not be the only one on trial. I’m a Vietnam era Veteran. You went to Vietnam for one tour unless you volunteered for a second. There was always a light at the end of the tunnel. Should the people who sent a soldier with TBI on a 4th combat tour be on trial as well? That is the question I was asking.

  9. Just nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @<a href="#comment-1508201″>Ron Beasley: Well since the alternative to trying HIM is to investigate the prospects of trying the guys who fashioned this debacle, I assert that tryjng Sgt Bailes is the only option available. The families of those he killed deserve something that at least resembles justice, and contrary to a previous post by James Joyner on a similar event simply whitewashing these events is not “better than the alternative.”

  10. Bennett says:

    @Ron Beasley: I agree if we are talking civilian trials concerning rendition, torture, or the nature of the war. We don’t need any high level military trials unless it comes to light that they acted without orders of the government or hid evidence of cause of war.

    Concerning the Vietnam angle, I will mention this is an all volunteer military. That my buddies had/have bad job prospects outside of the field, or in another case agreed with the current conflict does not mean a thing considering they reenlisted during a time of war.

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    Cannonfire has a post on the malaria drug Lariam given to troops in Afghanistan.

  12. ernieyeball says:

    From the linked NYT item:

    But one senior government official said Thursday that Sergeant Bales had been drinking alcohol before the killings and that he might have had marital problems.

    “When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” said the official, who had been briefed on the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sergeant had not yet been charged.

    He just snapped.
    Is this an accepted medical or psychological term? I’ve heard it used when people commit unprovoked violent attacks but it seems to be too vague and undefined to be considered an explanation for the behavior.