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Suspected Afghan shooter is from Stryker brigade

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A man points to bloodstains, where witnesses say Afghans were killed by a U.S. service member, in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, March 11, 2012. A U.S. service member walked out of a base in southern Afghanistan before dawn Sunday and started shooting Afghan civilians, according to villagers and Afghan and NATO officials. Villagers showed an Associated Press photographer 15 bodies, including women and children, and alleged they were killed by the American. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    An Afghan soldier speaks to civilians gathered outside a military base in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, March 11, 2012. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says a U.S. service member has killed more than a dozen people in a shooting including nine children and three women. Karzai called the attack Sunday "an assassination" and demanded an explanation from the United States. He says several people were also wounded in the attack on two villages near a U.S. base in the southern province of Kandahar. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)
  • Sunday
  • in Panjwai
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this Sunday, March 11, 2012 photo, Afghan security forces stand guard outside a home where witnesses say Afghans were killed by a U.S. soldier in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan. An Afghan youth recounted on Monday the terrifying scene in his home as a lone U.S. soldier moved stealthily through it during a killing spree, then crouched down and shot his father in the thigh as he stepped out of the bedroom. The soldier, now in U.S. custody, is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in their homes in the middle of the night between Saturday and Sunday and then burning some of their corpses. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said nine of those killed were children and three were women.(AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)
  • where witnesses say Afghans were killed by a U.S. service member
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SEATTLE >> A U.S. soldier suspected of killing at least 16 Afghan civilians in a nighttime assault is from a brigade that was the first in the Army to use the Stryker, a nimble eight-wheeled, light infantry vehicle built for a post-Cold War era.

Now, the brigade and the Washington state base where it is located are grappling with one of its own being accused of one of the worst atrocities of the roughly decade-old war in Afghanistan.

The name of the 38-year-old soldier was not released because it would be "inappropriate" to do so before charges are filed, Pentagon spokesman George Little said. The soldier is in custody at a base in Kandahar.

The staff sergeant was deployed Dec. 3 with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord located south of Seattle, a congressional source told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The news was the latest difficult episode for Lewis-McChord over the past few years.

Home to about 100,000 military and civilian personnel, it’s had a spate of suicides among soldiers back from war. And most famously, four service members were convicted in the deliberate killing of three Afghan civilians during patrols in 2010.

The soldier accused in Sunday’s shooting is not from the same brigade. Those soldiers were from the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which has since been renamed the 2nd Stryker brigade.

The 3rd Stryker Brigade, the brigade to which the accused soldier belongs, was the Army’s first brigade to use the Stryker. The brigade deployed three times to Iraq before sending 2,500 soldiers to Afghanistan for the first time last December.

For this most recent deployment, it left its 300 Stryker vehicles at home and, instead, has been using vehicles that were already in Afghanistan and are more resistant to roadside bombs.

The source said the soldier was assigned on Feb. 1 to a village stability program in Belambai, half a mile from one of the villages where the attack took place Sunday. Villagers described an armed soldier moving through homes, shooting residents.

The village stability operations are part of NATO’s efforts to transition out of Afghanistan. They pair special operations troops with local villagers chosen by village elders to become essentially a sanctioned, armed neighborhood watch.

Army officials are reviewing the soldier’s complete deployment and medical history.

In Washington state, Spc. Jared Richardson, an engineer at Lewis-McChord who served in Afghanistan, said the Army is working with soldiers to deal with their problems. But he said a decade of war has taken a toll on enlisted men and women.

"We’re on uncharted territory now, and it’s taking a toll on soldiers," Richardson said.

Jorge Gonzalez, executive director of Coffee Strong, a coffee shop near Lewis-McChord that doubles as a resource center for soldiers looking to leave the Army, said frequent Stryker deployments are taking their toll.

"There is definitely fatigue, many are on their third, fourth deployments. Many can’t wait to get out," he said.

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Associated Press writer Manuel Valdes contributed from near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

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