Update: The Army claims its accused soldiers, who could face the death penalty, killed civilians with grenades. More below.
Five Stryker troops have now been charged in the deaths of three civilians in Afghanistan between January and May. The Army announced Wednesday that Pfc. Andrew Holmes, Spec. Michael Wagnon and Spec. Adam Winfield are each facing premeditated murder counts in separate incidences. The three were shipped stateside this week and are being held at the fort, officially called Joint Base Lewis McChord.Earlier, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, also in custody, was charged with three specifications of premeditated murder and one count of assault. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs was also earlier charged with three murder and one assault counts and is now enroute to Fort Lewis from Kuwait.
The Army said about ten Fort Lewis soldiers have been under investigation for the three deaths, but has otherwise released few details about the killings. CNN has reported the soldiers deliberately killed civilians, used illegal drugs and conducted other illicit activities.
One military official familiar with the details of the case told CNN the matter was brought to the attention of commanders by at least one other soldier....The U.S. military is bracing for public outcry in Afghanistan when details emerge, several officials said. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has made protection of Afghan civilians a top priority, the officials stressed this case appears to be one of deliberate murder, not civilian casualties as a result of combat.
According to JBLM spokesperson Joe Piek, all five are assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division (known as the 5-2). They deployed to Afghanistan in July 2009 with their unit in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Gibbs, 25, is from Billings, Mont.; Holmes, 19, is from Boise; Wagnon, 29, is from Las Vegas; Winfield, 21, is from Cape Coral, Fla.; Morlock, 22, is from Wasilla, Alaska.
Update: According to charging papers, Gibbs, Morlock, and Holmes killed a civilian named Gul Mudin in January with a fragmentary grenade. Gibbs, Morlock and Wagnon in February shot another civilian, Marach Agha. In May, Gibbs, Morelock and Winfield threw a grenade at, and shot, a third civilian, Mullah Adahdad. All deaths took place around Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Afghanistan.
Attempting to cover up the murders, the Army says, Gibbs and Morlock assaulted a fellow soldier who apparently was unwilling to go along. Wagnon also is accused of interfering in the investigation by asking another soldier to erase evidence of the crimes from a computer hard drive.
Winfield, Wagnon, Morlock
So far the accused have not publicly told their side of the story, and the Army has not indicated what the soldiers' motivations might have been for the alleged killings. If convicted of premeditated murder, a soldier can be sentenced to death, or up to life in prison.
The soldiers' brigade has incurred 33 combat deaths, and three non-combat. The accused infantrymen earn from $1,700 to $2,300 a month; Sgt. Gibbs earns about $3,000.