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Sergeant facing 17 murder charges

US army staff sergeant Robert Bales will be charged with 17 counts of murder, assault and a string of other offences in connection with the massacre of Afghan villagers as they slept, a US official said.

The charges against Bales include 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault as well as dereliction of duty and other violations of military law.

The 38-year-old soldier and father of two who lives in Lake Tapps, Washington, will be charged with going on a shooting rampage in two villages near his southern Afghanistan military post in the early hours of March 11, gunning down nine Afghan children and eight adults and burning some of the victims' bodies.

The charges are to be read to Bales later and they include a change in the number of Afghans killed in the shooting spree from 16, which was widely reported for the past week, to 17.

There was initial confusion about the number of dead, hampered to some degree by the fact that some may have been buried before US military officials arrived at the scene of the carnage.

Bales is being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and faces trial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The killings were yet another blow to US-Afghan relations, following a series of missteps, including the burning of Korans, which prompted violent protests and revenge killings of American troops in the war zone.

The brutal shooting rampage also prompted renewed debate in the United States about health care for the troops, who have experienced record suicide rates and high rates of post-traumatic stress and brain injuries during repeated deployments over a decade of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bales was on his fourth tour of duty, having served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a head injury and a foot injury.

Lawyer John Henry Browne has portrayed his client as a patriot, loving father and devoted husband who had been traumatised by a comrade's injury and sent into combat one too many times. There have been conflicting reports about what exactly Bales saw relating to the comrade's injury.

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