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Army to soon file formal charges in Afghanistan killings

The Army is expected to bring formal charges late this week against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier who is accused of shooting and killing 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, in their homes, U.S. officials said Monday.

Bales is believed to have left Combat Outpost Belamby, a small Special Forces base in Panjawi district, about 3 a.m. on March 11 and headed to a nearby neighborhood, where he went house to house shooting residents, the officials said.

Bales had been drinking alcohol before the rampage, said an official briefed on the investigation. Several days earlier, a fellow soldier had been injured in a bomb attack outside the base, one of the officials said; the attack had blown off part of his leg.

Bales’ departure from the base was reported by an Afghan guard, and U.S. troops were putting together a search team when Bales returned and gave himself up.

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Video footage from a military surveillance blimp flying overhead captured Bales lying motionless in a field, an official said. After several minutes, he stood up and walked back to the base, the official said.

The Army has delayed bringing formal charges against Bales because it had hoped to make initial charges as complete as possible, an official said. In doing so, the official said, the military hoped to avoid criticism that it wasn’t conducting a thorough investigation of the incident.

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