A U.S. Army staff sergeant was charged on Friday with 17 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder over a shooting spree in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, U.S. military forces in Afghanistan said in a statement.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a 38-year-old veteran of four combat tours, is accused of walking off his base on March 11 under cover of darkness and opening fire at civilians in at least two different villages in Panjwai district.

(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Jack Kimball)