May 24th, 2010
09:54 AM ET

Sources: U.S. soldiers focus of criminal investigation

WASHINGTON — At least 10 U.S. Army soldiers from an already-troubled unit of the 2nd Infantry Division in southern Afghanistan are now the focus of a criminal investigation into allegations they deliberately killed three Afghan civilians, used illegal drugs and conducted other illicit activities, several military sources told CNN.

The soldiers are part of the 5th Stryker Brigade of the 2ID, based out of Fort Lewis, Washington, said the sources, who declined to be identified because the military has not named those under investigation.

The military issued a brief statement last week saying a criminal probe was under way into the allegations of killing, illegal drug use, assault and conspiracy. One military official familiar with the details of the case told CNN the matter was brought to the attention of commanders by at least one other soldier. The killings of the three civilians did not take place in one single incident, the official said.

Those under investigation are members of the same company, the official said. All 10 remain in Afghanistan. One soldier is being held in detention known as "pre-trial confinement." The others have been "put in a position where they can do no harm," the official said. He would offer no other details.

Charges are expected to be filed in the coming days.

The U.S. military is bracing for public outcry in Afghanistan when details emerge, several officials said. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has made protection of Afghan civilians a top priority, the officials stressed this case appears to be one of deliberate murder, not civilian casualties as a result of combat.

The Fort Lewis Stryker Brigade, known as the "5-2," has been the subject of controversy for months inside Army circles. The unit has suffered some of the highest casualty rates of the war. Several senior U.S. Army officials have told CNN there has been a growing belief inside Army circles the brigade was not embracing McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy and was too heavily focused instead on combat operations.

In one of the most comprehensive analyses of the 5-2's troubled tour in southern Afghanistan, the Army Times reported in January that the brigade commander Col. Harry Tunnell replaced one of his company commanders whose group had suffered high casualties.

But the Army Times, a privately-published newspaper, quoted several soldiers who said that company commander was very popular with the troops, and that the unit's deep-set troubles and casualties resulted from a lack of training for the type of counter-insurgency warfare now being called for.

"What we're doing is not working, and we need to go on a different tack," the Army Times quoted one soldier as saying.

A senior U.S. Army official directly familiar with Stryker operations said the command of the 5-2 has been a concern to the Army for months.

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