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Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales faces 17 counts of murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder when he is charged Friday for his alleged role in the killings of Afghan villagers, a senior U.S. official said.

Bales, 38, stands accused of leaving a remote outpost in Kandahar province’s Panjwai district on March 11 and going on a deadly house to house rampage.

U.S. and Afghan officials initially said 16 people, including nine children, were killed. The official, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity because of the nature of the case, could not explain why the count is now 17, when 16 were reportedly killed.

Afghan government officials in Kabul said the death toll remained at 16, and that they did not have record of another death.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force declined to comment on the report of pending charges.

The discrepancy will be explained when charges are filed, said Col. Gary Kolb, an ISAF spokesman.

Of the six people wounded in the attack on the villages, two have been released from the hospital, said Ahmad Javed Faisal, a Kandahar provincial government spokesman.

Bales, who was returned to the United States last week, is being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Bales’ lawyer, John Henry Browne, told CNN that he did not respond to leaks and that he would not comment before seeing the charges against his client. Even then, he said, “There’s probably not much to say.”

Still, Browne predicted the case — whenever it comes to trial — is going to be “extremely difficult” for the prosecution.

“They have no murder scene, no forensics,” the lawyer said Thursday night from outside his Seattle office. “I’m going to make them prove every claim.”

Military law experts acknowledge proving the case may be hard, especially given that there are no autopsies to help prove the cause of death — in large part because those killed were buried quickly, in accordance with Islamic tradition — and witnesses may not willingly fly from Afghanistan to the United States to testify.

Courtesy of  CNN.COM

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