Pentagon disputes Afghan claim of earlier bombing

March 21, 2012 - 5:58 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon on Wednesday disputed claims by Afghans near the villages where a U.S. soldier is alleged to have killed 16 civilians that there had been a roadside bombing in that vicinity a few days earlier that wounded U.S. soldiers.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, said U.S. officials have found no record of such an attack.

Villagers have said they are convinced that the March 11 massacre, allegedly carried out by Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, was in retaliation for the roadside bombing of a U.S. military vehicle on March 7 or 8. They said it occurred in Mokhoyan, a village about 500 yards east of the base where Bales was working.

Villagers also have asserted to The Associated Press and to Afghan authorities that U.S. troops lined them up against a wall after the earlier roadside bombing and told them that they, and even their children, would pay a price for the attack.

"What I can tell you now is that we don't have any indication that either the attack that's being described occurred, and certainly no evidence that there were any threats of retaliation by U.S. soldiers, but investigators are looking at everything right now," Kirby told reporters.

Separately, a U.S. defense official said it is likely that a soldier from Bales' unit, based in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, suffered a leg wound a day or two before the March 11 shootings, but military officials have no evidence that this has any connection to the massacre. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal review.

The leg wounding was first mentioned publicly by Bales' lawyer, John Henry Browne, who has said that his client was upset around the time of the village massacre because a buddy had lost a leg in an explosion on March 9.

The U.S. defense official said that while there are indications of such a wounding there is no evidence that Bales witnessed it or the aftermath or that this played any role in his actions on March 11.

U.S. criminal charges are expected to be filed soon against Bales, who is being detained at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Afghan officials have asked the United States for some role in the criminal proceedings, perhaps as observers, and to be kept up to date on the process of the case. The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has not demanded that Bales be turned over to the Afghan justice system, although some in the country's parliament did. The Afghans have also urged a fast resolution of the case.

Both issues were topics of discussion between Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasoul and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a State Department meeting Wednesday.

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AP National Security Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.