The allegations against soldiers recently deployed in southern Afghanistan have yet to be proven but are “serious nonetheless,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.
Five soldiers face murder charges, and seven others are accused of joining in a coverup, including beating a comrade who tried to blow the whistle, according to US Army documents released Wednesday.
The accused served in the 2nd Infantry Division brigade at Forward Operating Base Ramrod, in the Kandahar province, a Taliban bastion.
The case poses a potential nightmare for the US military, which has tried to train its troops to win the trust of Afghans in a troubled counter-insurgency campaign.
Even if the allegations are proved to be untrue, the case “is unhelpful,” Morrell said.
“It does not help the perceptions of our forces around the world,” he said.
“The people in that area who are impacted by these alleged incidents will think differently of us as a result of that.”
He added the allegations represented “an aberration” for a force of nearly 100,000 deployed in Afghanistan.
The charges describe the killing of three Afghans in January, February and May last year, with the soldiers allegedly throwing grenades and shooting at the victims. Five soldiers are accused of a role in one or more of the murders, according to the charging documents.