(CNN) — The U.S. military has referred the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to a court martial that would be authorized to consider the death penalty.
Bales is accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers, nine of them children, in a shooting rampage in March.
In addition to the 16 charges of murder “with premeditation,” 38-year-old Staff Sgt. Bales faces six counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault.
Authorities say Bales left a remote outpost in Kandahar province’s Panjwai district early March 11 and went house-to-house, gunning down villagers. He returned to base, then left again for more killing.
The six people wounded in the shootings are four children, one woman and one man, according to the charge sheet against Bales. Two of those have been released from a hospital, said Ahmad Javed Faisal, a Kandahar provincial government spokesman.
At the minimum, Bales would be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole if he’s convicted on even one of the 16 murder charges, according to a statement from the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan public affairs office.
At the maximum, he could face the death penalty.
The Taliban, in an e-mail to CNN, vowed “strong revenge” for the attacks and claimed justice won’t be served in U.S. courts, which they said “are not reliable.”
The Islamic fundamentalist group, which been battling coalition and Afghan government forces for years, believes that “tens of American soldiers, and not one person” are responsible for the killings, according to the message.
“We don’t believe in these (American) courts and reject the decision,” the Taliban said. “We will take practical revenge on every single American soldier.”
Bales, who was returned to the United States in March and has been held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
The U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan over loud protest, and it took three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.