SEATTLE (Reuters) - About 100 U.S. soldiers have been confined to their barracks at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, as Army officials investigate the apparent theft of sensitive military equipment, base spokesmen said on Sunday.
The infantry unit was placed on “lockdown” on Wednesday after the weapons accessories were reported missing from a supply area, said Major Chris Ophardt, a spokesman for the U.S. Army’s I Corps at the base.
The missing equipment included laser-targeting gun sights, night-vision goggles, and weapons scopes with a “high-dollar value” in the “six-figure range,” said Lieutenant Colonel Gary Dangerfield, another base spokesman.
He said the items in question were deemed “sensitive” but were not considered dangerous by themselves.
The Army did not say how many individual pieces of equipment were missing, but Ophardt said missing gear was “definitely stolen.” He added that no actual weapons were missing, and there was no danger to the public.
Lewis-McChord, located about 9 miles south of Tacoma, also is the home base of a group of soldiers convicted of assaulting and murdering unarmed Afghan civilians while on patrol as part of a combat unit formerly known as the 5th Stryker Brigade.
A staff sergeant from that unit was found guilty by court-martial on most of the charges against him in November, becoming the 11th soldier convicted in connection with the widest-ranging prosecution of U.S. military atrocities and other misconduct during 10 years of war in Afghanistan.
A 12th soldier, one of five originally charged with murder, still faces a court-martial.
A lockdown means the soldiers are confined to barracks and office areas of the unit, so the troops are not permitted to go home if they have families residing outside the barracks, the Army said.
On Saturday, the restrictions were loosened to allow soldiers’ families to visit them in confinement, Ophardt said.
A criminal investigation has been launched, and a $10,000 reward offered.
Members of the unit under investigation have been home from Iraq since September 2010.
Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Bohan