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Posted at 11:34 AM ET, 03/23/2012

Robert Bales may be charged with 17 deaths, not 16 — why did the number change?

Since the night of March 11, when Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly gunned down Afghan villagers in Kandahar province, the military, and the world, has been trying to piece together what happened and why.

Now a new death toll has emerged. Officials report Bales will be charged with 17 deaths — one more than the 16 deaths that have been repeatedly cited in military and Afghan government accounts of the rampage. No explanation has been provided about why the number grew by one. Here’s what is known — and what isn’t known — about the death toll:
An Afghan man sits next to the covered bodies of people who were killed in Kandahar province. (Ahmad Nadeem/Reuters)

On Wednesday, after two weeks of reports that 16 people died in the shooting spree, anonymous defense officials told the Associated Press 17 people had died, but said they could not explain the change.


Staff Sgt. Robert Bales (Spc. Ryan Hallock/AP)

A U.S. official, speaking anonymously, told The Post later that day that Bales would be charged with 17 counts of murder stemming from the massacre. Media accounts on Thursday night uniformly referred to 17 pending charges.

According to The Post’s reporting, 12 people were killed in the town of Najeeban and four others were killed in the nearby village of Alokozo, for a total of 16 dead. Six more people were wounded, and five of those people were hospitalized. Two have since been released from the hospital.

Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, spoke to The Post’s Ernesto Londoño and said he could not address the discrepancy between the 16 victims tallied by Afghan officials and the 17 counts of murder the staff sergeant will reportedly face.

Cummings did say that none of the people wounded in the shootings has died. He ruled out the possibility that one of the slain women was pregnant. Another possibility, reported by MSNBC, is that there was evidence of a 17th body at the scene.

Al Jazeera reports that some of the dead could have been buried before US military officials arrived at the scene. Other bodies were reportedly burned.

The charges against Bales have not been filed, so there are no court documents to provide a clearer picture of what officials believe happened the night of March 11. The charges are expected to be formally announced this afternoon.

Update: The U.S. military on March 23 charged Bales with murdering 17 Afghans.

Gen. John Allen, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, later explained the increase from 16 to 17. He said Afghan authorities initially reported 16 deaths, but that number has since increased to 17:

By  |  11:34 AM ET, 03/23/2012

 
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