The Army has charged a Stryker soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord with murder in the deaths of three Afghan civilians.
Three charges of premeditated murder and one charge of assault were filed against Spc. Jeremy Morlock, 22, a native of Wasilla, Alaska. He is an infantryman assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
Morlock was returned home from Afghani-stan on Thursday and detained, Lewis-McChord spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tamara Parker said. He is being held in the Northwest Joint Regional Confinement Facility at Lewis-McChord.
He is the first soldier formally charged in the civilians’ deaths, Parker said, but more could end up facing charges.
The U.S. military last month announced an investigation of allegations that a group of Stryker soldiers from Lewis-McChord deliberately killed three civilians in a series of shootings earlier this year.
Military officials said they had detained one soldier with the Army’s 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which deployed last summer to Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. It isn’t known whether Morlock was that soldier.
The allegations center on as many as nine soldiers from the 5th Brigade at Forward Operating Base Ramrod, a remote outpost west of Kandahar city. The soldiers initially were under investigation for drug charges, officials said, but that led to allegations that the unit had taken part in the civilian killings, according to two officials familiar with the details.
If the allegations prove true, U.S. military credibility in southern Afghanistan could be undermined. The military is funneling soldiers to Kandahar as part of a campaign to weaken the Taliban’s hold on crucial parts of the province, and the case could make it harder to persuade skeptical Afghans to back the campaign.
The 5th Brigade moved into Kandahar last summer, when roadside bombs were taking a high toll on U.S. forces. Thirty-four soldiers from the brigade have been killed since August, including one last weekend. Seven were killed in October when their 21-ton Stryker vehicle hit a massive roadside bomb in one of the deadliest incidents for U.S. forces last year.
Morlock deployed to Afghanistan in July 2009 with his unit. It was his first deployment.
He entered the military in June 2006 and reported to JBLM in December 2006, after receiving initial entry training and advanced individual training at Fort Benning, Ga.
Parker said members of the 5th Brigade are in the process of returning home; some already have returned.
The charges against Morlock involve three events alleged to have occurred between January and May, Parker said.
She said Criminal Investigation Command officials are continuing their investigation and that she had no other details.
Parker said other soldiers are being investigated in connection with the deaths, but she could comment only on Morlock because he is the only one who is back in the base’s jurisdiction.
If convicted of premeditated murder, Morlock could face life in prison or death, Parker said.
Mike Archbold: 253-535-9552 firstname.lastname@example.org