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Pentagon: No evidence Afghan massacre was a retaliation

Contrary to reports from villagers where the massacre took place, U.S. military officials say there is no evidence of an IED attack on Americans around the time of the shooting that killed 16 Afghan civilians. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

Senior Pentagon and military officials said Wednesday that they have "no evidence" to support claims by Afghan villagers that they were lined up and threatened at gunpoint by American soldiers prior to the massacre of civilians 10 days ago.

Residents of a village, near where American soldier Sgt Robert Bales is alleged to have killed 16 civilians, are convinced that the slayings were in retaliation for a roadside bomb attack on U.S. forces in the same area a few days earlier.

In accounts to The Associated Press and to Afghan government officials reported earlier this week, the residents allege that U.S. troops lined up men from the village of Mokhoyan against a wall after the bombing on either March 7 or 8, and told them they would pay a price for the attack.

Pentagon officials on Wednesday said they could not completely deny the claims amid the confusion of battlefield reporting, but several officials raise serious doubts about the accusations.

One senior official told NBC News: "We are obviously trying to get to the bottom of these claims and if there's any credence to them it will come out in the ongoing investigation."

Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby told reporters Wednesday afternoon he "can't rule it out" but there was "no evidence" of any attack on US forces in that region prior to the massacre as claimed.

Villagers: Afghan slayings were an act of retaliation

The lawyer for Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who is accused in the March 11 killings of the 16 civilians, has said that his client was upset because a buddy had lost a leg in an explosion on March 9.

It's unclear if the bombing cited by attorney John Henry Browne was the same as the one described by the villagers that prompted the alleged threats. After a meeting at a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Browne said Bales told him a roadside bomb blew off the leg of one of his friends two days before the shootings occurred.

Inquiry targets 'command climate' in Afghan killings

Bales, 38, is suspected of leaving a U.S. base in Panjwai district of Kandahar province, entering homes and gunning down nine children, four men and three women before dawn on March 11 in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai. Mokhoyan is about 500 yards east of the base.

The shootings have further strained ties between the U.S. government and President Hamid Karzai, who has accused the U.S. military of not cooperating with a delegation he appointed to investigate the killings.

NBC News Chief Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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