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Afghan villagers say shootings were revenge

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Several Afghans near the villages where an American soldier is alleged to have killed 16 civilians say U.S. troops lined them up against a wall after a roadside bombing and told them that they, and even their children, would pay a price for the attack.

Residents have given similar accounts to both The Associated Press and to Afghan government officials about an alleged bombing in the vicinity, which they said occurred March 7 or 8, and left U.S. troops injured. The residents also said they are convinced that the slayings of the 16 villagers just days later was in retaliation for that bomb.

Although the villagers' accounts could not be independently confirmed, their claim that the shootings by a U.S. soldier may have been payback for a roadside bombing has gained wide currency in the area and has been repeated by politicians testifying about the incident to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, is suspected of leaving a U.S. base in Panjwai district, entering homes and gunning down nine children, four men and three women before dawn on March 11 in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai. Villagers said the earlier bombing occurred in Mokhoyan, a village about 500 yards (meters) east of the base.

A lawyer for Bales in the United States also suggested that Bales was motivated by a bombing in the area.

However, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan declined to give any information on the bombing or even confirm that it occurred, citing the ongoing investigation into the shootings. He also declined to comment on the suggestions that U.S. troops had threatened villagers with retaliation.

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