The US soldier suspected of methodically slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians has been identified by senior military officials as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.
Robert Bales
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Staff Sgt. Robert Bales during an exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California

The Army has kept the 38-year-old's identity a closely-held secret since he was arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning after allegedly attacking two villages in Kandahar and shooting dead nine children.

Last night, after he was flown from a temporary military prison in Kuwait to a maximum security cell in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, his identity was leaked for the first time.

Bales enlisted in the US Army shortly after the September 11 attacks, his lawyer said, and served three tours in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan in December of last year.

While in Iraq in 2010 he suffered mild brain injuries when his was vehicle flipped by a roadside bomb attack but after undergoing treatment was cleared to return to the front line. A second injury in Iraq reportedly led to part of his foot being removed.

John Henry Browne, the suspect's lawyer, said the father-of-two was reluctant to deploy to Afghanistan in December and that the day before the killings he had seen a comrade's leg blown off.

On the day of the massacre he and two other US soldiers had reportedly been drinking despite military rules banning alcohol from the combat zones.

"When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues - he just snapped," an American official told the New York Times.

One reason for the secrecy surrounding his identity was out fear of reprisals against his wife and two children, aged three and four. They were moved onto his former base in Washington state last weekend for their own protection.

Mr Browne, who has previously represented serial killer Ted Bundy, said that his client was "highly decorated" combat veteran and strongly denied claims that the staff sergeant's marriage had been under strain.

"[His family] were totally shocked. He's never said anything antagonistic about Muslims, he's never said anything about Middle Eastern individuals. He has in general been very mild-mannered, so they were shocked by this," Mr Browne said, adding that he had no previous record of criminal activity.

Bales has not yet been formally charged with any crime and it could be months before he first appears before an American military court. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, has said he could face the death penalty if convicted.

His identity was revealed on same day Hamid Karzai complained America had hindered his own government's investigation of the massacre.

The Afghan president said he was "at the end of his rope" over the number of civilians killed by Nato forces and said US officials failed to co-operate with his own team investigating the killings in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar.

He said: "The army chief has just reported that the Afghan investigation team did not receive the co-operation that they expected from the United States. Therefore these are all questions that we'll be raising, and raising very loudly, and raising very clearly."

The massacre earlier this week led Mr Karzai to call for all foreign troops to leave rural outposts and withdraw to their main bases.

Meanwhile, it was disclosed that a senior US general and his British deputy had to flee for their lives when an Afghan interpreter drove a stolen pickup truck at their party as they waited for the arrival of the US defence secretary.

US Marine Maj Gen Mark Gurganus and Brig Stuart Skeats were in a reception committee for Leon Panetta when the attacker drove his car at them at Camp Bastion. The attacker apparently set his car on fire and died of his burns hours later.