Sergeant Who Murdered Afghans Was a Racist, Steroid Using ‘Angry Drunk’
In the early morning hours of March 11, 2012, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales walked off his base in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, approached two villages and murdered 16 people — many of them children dragged by their hair and shot in the head.
Bales would receive life in the prison for the killings. Now U.S. Central Command has released its June 2012 incident report on the murders after a Freedom of Information Act request.
The report points to Bales’ explosive personality, racism, alcohol and steroid use — among other factors — as warning signs of the coming massacre. Soldiers who knew about the worst of it didn’t report him to their superiors, who themselves failed to lead by example.
Bales was the squad leader for one of two squads at Camp Belambai in the Horn of Panjwa’i, a dangerous region between the Arghandab and Dowrey rivers.
The squads, part of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, were there to provide security and extra manpower for Special Operations Forces, who were in overall command. The troops frequently patrolled the surrounding countryside, blocked Taliban movements and consulted with local village elders.
In addition to being a squad leader, Bales was the highest ranking battalion member and the intermediary between the conventional infantry and the commandos at the base.
That’s important. Due to his rank and an existing reputation as a highly-regarded leader, the soldiers under his command began noticing his erratic behavior, but didn’t want to go over his head to the special operators, also known as Operational Detachment-Alpha, a.k.a. ODA.
Making matters more serious, soldiers within ODA engaged in some of the same bad behavior, including saying ethnic slurs, using steroids and drinking alcohol.
The report adds:
Let’s back up a moment. Soldiers told the investigators that the racist comments were in a joking manner between a tightly-knit group of soldiers. For the most part, this was true. The troops “did not in general exhibit inappropriate racial or ethnic behavior toward each other,” according to the report.
But other soldiers reported racist comments that were just that — racist.
According to an African-American soldier at the base, Bales “on more than one occasion made insensitive comments about African-American films playing on Armed Forces Network (AFN) for Black History month.” Another reported offensive comment from Bales is heavily redacted.
Derogatory statements, including from Bales, were also directed at Afghans.
This is bad enough, and it continued because soldiers didn’t feel that it was their place to report it. But the Central Command report did not consider this kind of racism to constitute a warning of impeding mass murder. It was too generalized, and too few people knew about it.
But that wasn’t all. There was Bales’ steroid use, which led him to begin “acting erratically on a mission.” The ODA did not know about the steroid use, and soldiers under Bales’ command who did know … did not report it.
Then Bales physically assaulted an Afghan.
Bales already had a reputation for a being a hothead. One soldier reported his leadership style was … to yell. Not unusual. But soldiers who had drank with him said he was “angry drunk.”
Now combine that with steroid use, erratic behavior and racist attitudes toward Afghans … and then physically attacking an Afghan. You can see the intersection of several violent personality traits and behaviors.
The report also places blame on the overall leadership structure of the unit. For example, the commandos within ODA looked down on the regular infantry. While the ODA’s non-commissioned officers were skilled tactical leaders, they didn’t care much for maintaining discipline among the soldiers.
“The SOF community must take measures to weed out manifestations of disdain or dislike for conventional infantry,” the report added. “Just as it would be unacceptable for military professionals whose doctrinal mission requires training indigenous forces to exhibit an attitude of disdain for the very people from which the forces are drawn, such an attitude to one’s own countrymen or allies who happen to be conventionally trained cannot be tolerated.”
Had the commandos acted differently, perhaps someone in the unit would have reported Bales. Maybe someone would have done something. But it’s impossible to know.
Another question involves the role an IED attack several days prior to the massacre. While traveling between FOB Zangabad to Belambai, a roadside bomb hit a vehicle and injured five soldiers.
An explosive ordnance disposal specialist then triggered another IED and lost his leg.
There’s been a lot of speculation that Bales wanted revenge. The soldiers interviewed in the report gave mixed answers when asked about his reaction to the ambush. Some said he “seemed distraught” while others said he “seemed normal and exhibited nothing to show concern about.”
But another witness said he “was ‘kind of different.’” Another person “stated he would see SSG Bales sitting by the fire pit, in deep thought.”