Afghan officials investigating the shooting of 17 civilians by US solder Robert Bales have told SBS Afghan guards alerted US forces about the unusual behaviour of a US soldier that night.
SBS's Dateline has uncovered more detail about what happened the night an American soldier allegedly went on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan's Kandahar province earlier this month.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is facing 17 counts of pre-meditated murder, along with a string of other charges, for the massacre of Afghan civilians in two villages in Panjwai District in the early hours of 11 March.
Dateline journalist Yalda Hakim and cameraman Ryan Sheridan were granted rare access to President Hamid Karzai's chief investigator, to survivors and their relatives, and to the area where the attacks took place.
Hakim found that an Afghan soldier who was on duty at the entrance of the Camp Balambai military base that night, sent a colleague to alert American forces about the unusual behaviour of a US soldier entering the camp at 1.30am after the first series of killings at Alkozai village.
“I told him that an American had just entered the base. He went to the interpreter to notify the foreign forces. After that, I don't know what happened,” he told Hakim.
In spite of the warning, Sgt. Bales is believed to have then remained at the camp for a full hour before leaving again for a second village, Najiban, where his rampage continued.
Another Afghan guard told Hakim that he saw the soldier walking out of the base, towards Najiban village.
(An Afghan guard says he reported sighting Bales outside the base.)
“He had an M4 gun, a helmet and his bullet proof vest. He started to walk off. When he started to move away I called a patrol and told them that an American has left the base. The patrol called the platoon commander and the platoon commander notified the foreign forces,” the Afghan guard who spotted Bales returning from Najiban told Hakim.
When recounting the attacks, several survivors referred to more than one American soldier being involved. Amina, a mother of six children whose husband was murdered, told Hakim:
“When they shot dead my husband, I tried to drag him into the house, they'd shot him in the head so his brain was all over my hands. I had to use a bowl for his blood.
“I saw more than 20 people when I looked out the house. The Americans pointed their gun at me and threatened me, telling me not to leave the house or they'd kill me,” Amina continued.
Claims that Bales did not act alone are being examined by President Hamid Karzai's chief investigator, General Sher Mohammad Karimi.
“What they claim is that there were boot prints in the area, in some area they see the kneeling position of three, four individuals, and also they claim that the helicopters were there to support the operations,” General Karimi told Hakim.
“Of course I told them the helicopters were used when the guy went missing when they were searching for him. They said 'no, the noise of the helicopters were from the very beginning the shooting start'. So, that means there were many Americans who were supporting this issue that were doing this deliberately it is not an individual. So, that is the claim of the people,” General Karimi continued.
Bales was formally charged last week with 17 premeditated murders as well as six counts of assault and attempted murder in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province. He could face the death penalty if convicted.