Villagers who witnessed the methodical killing are asking for an execution and the U.S. is reportedly considering charges that would carry the death penalty for the soldier who allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
Defense officials have told NBC News that the Army staff sergeant who allegedly shot and killed 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, admitted his actions to fellow soldiers just before he was taken into custody.
"I did it," he is said to have told them.
According to the officials, a search party that included helicopters was formed after an Afghan soldier reported the American had left their small remote outpost in the early morning hours. In the meantime, the base received word that a number of civilians had been killed in a shooting spree at a nearby village.
Overhead surveillance first spotted the soldier on his stomach in a field, either attempting to hide or crawl toward the base. He eventually stood up and walked a short distance to the base where he was confronted and asked about the shootings at the village. The officials say the staff sergeant replied "I did it." At that point he was disarmed and taken into custody. He then asked for a lawyer and has refused to talk ever since.
The officials also said they’ve received reports that the soldier was having marital problems and had recently received a troubling letter or email from his wife. According to one official, after four combat deployments it’s not unusual there would be stress on the family.
Defense officials also told NBC News that investigators have reason to believe that alcohol "may" have been a contributing factor in the shooting spree.
The investigation found bottles of alcohol on the small remote base where the staff sergeant was deployed. The officials emphasize "may" because they say that nowhere in the reporting from the field is there any indication the staff sergeant was inebriated.
The soldier, reportedly married with two children, enlisted in the Army soon after the terror attacks of Sept. 11 and did three combat tours in Iraq before arriving in Kandahar, near where the shootings took place, in December 2011.
Reports that the soldier had received post-traumatic stress disorder examinations are not unusual, since every soldier coming out of combat is routinely screened for PTSD.
The soldier suffered some minor traumatic brain injury in a rollover in Iraq in 2010, but that part of his medical history does not appear at this point to be a factor, according to the officials. They also said the man has a clean medical and behavior record.
Col. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition in Kabul, told The Associated Press a 48-hour probable cause assessment has been completed and that the service member continues to be confined.
Additionally, the officials told NBC News that the the military is considering capital murder charges against the soldier, meaning he could face the death penalty if convicted. They said the military also intends to conduct his court martial hearing in Afghanistan. Not only would it send the right signal to the Afghan people, officials said, but trying him in the United States or another country in the region would also present a logistics nightmare given the number of witnesses that would be expected to testify.
Military investigators in Afghanistan hope to file charges and release the identity of the soldier by the end of the week, but warn it could take another two weeks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
On Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where the soldier suspected of shooting 16 Afghan civilians came from, the military had previously launched an investigation into the military installation's health care system after nearly 300 soldiers had their PTSD diagnoses reversed. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.
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