August 18, 2015 / 8:29 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. military probe of Afghan shooting found Bales' camp had lax discipline

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The month before he killed 16 Afghan civilians in a shooting rampage, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales bloodied the nose of an Afghan truck driver in an assault that was not reported to his camp commanders, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, (L) 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, is seen during an exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, in this August 23, 2011 DVIDS handout photo. REUTERS/Department of Defense/Spc. Ryan Hallock/Handout

The assault, and the failure to report it to senior officers, was one of several signs that the post where Bales served in Afghanistan was suffering from “low standards of personal conduct and discipline,” said the military’s administrative investigation of the 2012 shooting incident.

Some U.S. troops at Camp Belambai in Kandahar Province used alcohol and steroids and made ethnic or racial slurs against Afghans, a lax atmosphere that appeared to have been tolerated by some mid-level leaders, the investigation found.

The week before the shootings, Bales used steroids while on a mission and one fellow non-commissioned officer was worried about his erratic behavior, but those concerns were not passed on to camp leadership, the report said.

It also found that some of Bales’ superiors at the camp held him in such low regard that they bypassed him and gave tasks directly to his subordinates.

Despite the findings, the investigation concluded the behavioral issues observed at Camp Belambai “had no effect or contribution whatsoever” to the shooting spree by Bales, who left the base before dawn on March 11 and opened fire at family compounds in two different villages near the outpost.

Bales, a decorated soldier with four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in August 2013 after pleading guilty to killing 16 unarmed Afghan civilians, mainly women and children.

The long-withheld report was released by the military on Tuesday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. Because it occurred at the same time as a criminal investigation, the administrative probe did not interview Bales and others linked to the case.

While concluding the command climate at the camp was not related to the killings by Bales, the investigation found that commanders should have had “much greater situational awareness of the discipline of its members.”

“At a minimum ... leadership should have known about the incident in which Staff Sergeant Bales assaulted the truck driver and should have known about concerns of Staff Sergeant Bales acting erratically due to his use of steroids,” the report said.

Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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