The first story was shaky from the start, that Sgt. Robert Bales "sneaked" off a combat outpost into hostile, landmined territory in the middle of the night, walked north a little over a half mile to a village, engaged in bloody murder, then walked back that half mile, past the base, and another mile south, killed more people, then turned himself in at the gate, all within an hour. Sharp-eyed bloggers did the math and recalled from other reports that Bales has part of a foot missing from a wound in Iraq, making the feat all the more remarkable.
Among the dead were a number of children, including a two-year-old.
Two weeks later the Pentagon's story changed, and Bales had managed to sneak off the base twice over a longer timeline:
"Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who is suspected in the shooting deaths this month of 17 Afghans, sneaked off his remote outpost twice during his alleged 90-minute rampage in two Afghan villages, two senior U.S. officials told CNN on Monday.
The officials said that, after the March 11 shootings in one village in Kandahar province, Bales sneaked back onto his base. They said Bales was seen at that point by fellow troops.
One official said investigators believe Bales told other soldiers he had just killed military-aged Afghan men. The officials said they did not know whether those troops told anyone else.
Then Bales sneaked out again and headed to the second village; he was apprehended by a search party as he attempted to re-enter the combat outpost the second time, the officials said.
Before this account, an Afghan guard was believed to have been the sole person who saw Bales that night. The guard alerted U.S. troops on base."
The UK Guardian noted around the same time:
"Members of the Afghan delegation investigating the killings said one Afghan guard working from midnight to 2am saw a US soldier return to the base around 1.30am. Another Afghan soldier who replaced the first and worked until 4am said he saw a US soldier leaving the base at 2.30am. It's unknown whether the Afghan guards saw the same US soldier. If the gunman acted alone, information from the Afghan guards would suggest that he returned to base in between the shooting sprees."
Never mind that this leaves open the question of whether security at a "hot" outpost is routinely left, in this era of attacks coming from inside the wire, to purely indigenous guard, while US troops sleep. Ho Chi Minh would have dreamed of this situation. CNN reported that a US official told them that Bales had returned to the base "unnoticed."
"One U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation said an Afghan guard allegedly spotted Bales leaving his outpost around 1 a.m. It is not clear why Bales' superiors weren't alerted, and the official said Bales was not noticed when he allegedly returned to the compound an hour later."
The NY Times report quoting one Afghan General Hameed seemed aimed at putting a bit of spin on how Bales could have sashayed on and off the base so easily, saying:
"In recent interviews, American and Afghan officials said that the outpost in the rural Panjwai district was guarded by Afghan soldiers that night, as it probably was on most nights, because there were relatively few American soldiers based there, possibly only a platoon. Platoons typically have between 25 and 40 soldiers. -"Details Offered on How Suspect Could Have Left Afghan Base""
So let me get this straight. A base in one of the most hostile parts of a war zone is under indigenous guard at night because, out of 25 - 40 tough US soldiers, they all need to be get their beauty sleep? This isn't the 21st Century Army. This is "F Troop." If the Pentagon really wants to fool people, they should learn when to shut up.
Jefferson Morley of Salon.com was the first reliable American outlet to report President Karzai's, and the members of an Afghan Parliament investigative team's, insistence that there was more than one shooter: