March 11, 2012: Robert Bales Kills 16 or 17 Afghan Civilians in the Kandahar Massacre

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A Brief History

On March 11, 2012, a single US Army sergeant did more to hurt the US war effort in Afghanistan than all the politicians and generals combined! Robert Bales killed 16 or 17 Afghan civilians in the incident known as the Kandahar Massacre.  NOTE: The number of victims killed has been reported as either 16 or 17.  Many articles from 2012 have the death toll as 17 whereas later articles reduced the number to 16.

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find a deeply disturbed Staff Sergeant Robert Bales based in Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

It is worth noting that soldiers at this base have a disproportionate history of cracked behavior, with several shooting police officers, waterboarding their own children and domestic violence!  The main medical facility on that base had been accused of glossing over cases of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and giving a less serious diagnosis.

Around midnight on March 11, 2012 SSGT Bales left his base in the Kandahar area of Afghanistan, put on traditional Afghan civilian clothes over his uniform went to the nearby village and commenced killing civilians.  Half way through his killing spree he apparently went back to the base and then left again around 0300 hrs (3:00 am) for part II of his mad mission.  Bales wore night vision goggles during his killing spree, allowing him to move about with stealth.

Bales shot the majority of his victims in the head, which according to Afghan survivors meant putting his gun barrel in the mouth of children and then shooting them! Bales then desecrated the corpses by setting them on fire, which is an insult and sacrilege to Muslims.

When Bales left the base the second time Afghans reported to US Army personnel about the soldier walking off the base in the middle of the night, which resulted in a base alert and a head count. Before a hastily mounted patrol could find him, Bales returned to the base and immediately surrendered, admitting what he had done, which of course was murder 17 civilians and wound 6 more.  Sadly, 9 of the victims were children.

Bales was returned to the US and faced a General Court Martial at which he pled guilty to the murders in order to avoid the death penalty.  He was reduced in rank to private E-1 and dishonorably discharged, as well as being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  This punishment, however, was deemed insufficient by the Afghan people, the Afghan government, and the families of victims.  Afghans demanded that Bales be executed, and between the murders and the lack of a death sentence relations between the US forces and the Afghans were monumentally damaged.

The US government provided $50,000 to the family of each person killed and $10,000 to each injured person.  Although the payment was for “assisting” those people and not as compensation for their loss, many Afghans thought the amounts were an insult.

Disturbed behavior by American forces was not limited to this terrible incident. Other allegations of murders and accidental (or as Afghans say careless) killing of civilians with bombs and artillery had arisen, and well publicized incidents of US forces burning Qurans and urinating on dead Taliban fighters made the news around the world. The Afghan government was under great pressure to kick US troops out of the country, but they needed American money and military protection to stay in charge.  By August of 2021, American and Afghan desire for the American military presence in Afghanistan had reached the breaking point, and President Biden ordered a withdrawal of US combat troops.  Question for students (and subscribers): Should the US pull out military forces?  Even in the US there is heated debate.  What do you think?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information on the American war in Afghanistan, please read…

Hastings, Michael. The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan. Plume, 2012.

Jones, Seth G. In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan. W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

The featured image in this article, a United States Army photograph by Specialist Ryan Hallock (28th Public Affairs) of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales pictured at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, California, August 23, 2011, is a work of a U.S. Army soldier or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, it is in the public domain in the United States.

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About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.