Top US Commander Examines Leadership Issues in Afghan Killings

Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon,  March 26, 2012.
Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, March 26, 2012.
Luis Ramirez

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Corps General John Allen, said Monday he is looking into possible leadership failures that might have led to the killing of 17 Afghan villagers, allegedly by a U.S. soldier this month.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Officials say the investigation around the deaths continues - including a review of the command climate in Bales’s unit to see what factors might have contributed to the killings in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, General Allen suggested a major probe is under way in the wake of high-profile incidents, including the recent inadvertent Quran burnings by U.S. service members and a video that earlier circulated showing Marines urinating on Afghan corpses.

“Each one of those was a result of a leadership failure in some form or another,” he said.

Allen is wrapping up a visit to Washington, where he has faced tough questions from lawmakers and others on the effectiveness of the decade-long U.S. military effort in Afghanistan. He also has faced questions of whether multiple deployments and combat stress in the conflict have been a source of the problems.

In his remarks Monday, the general said most officers in the force are highly trained.

“Repeated tours in Afghanistan and prior to that in Iraq don’t inherently reduce the effectiveness of the force,” said Allen.

Bales was on his fourth military deployment after three earlier ones in Iraq, where reports say he suffered a brain injury.

Allen did not specifically address some of the reports that have been circulating about Bales - including those that say he might have been drinking before leaving his base to allegedly attack the villagers while they slept.  

Allen said he will be looking closely at what he says is a very thorough investigation.

U.S. forces have paid compensation to the families of the dead and to those wounded in the attack.

Bales is being held at a U.S. military prison the midwestern state of Kansas.

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