Los Angeles: A US soldier who allegedly killed three Afghan civilians for fun is to face a full court martial, military authorities said.
Specialist Jeremy Morlock, one of a group of accused soldiers, faces charges of premeditated murder in the deaths of three Afghans killed between January and May this year.
The decision to take the case to a full court martial trial comes after preliminary hearings at the end of September.
"The case will now come under the control of a military judge who will arraign the accused," said a statement issued by the Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle, in the eastern US state of Washington, on Friday.
No date has yet been set for the court martial trial, it said, adding that Morlock faces possible life in jail without the option of parole if convicted on all charges.
He faces three charges of pre-meditated murder and one of assault, as well as one each of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to assault. He is also accused of trying to block an investigation, and using a controlled drug.
Morlock is one of five soldiers charged with murder in the case; seven others are accused of trying to block the investigation. They also face charges of using hashish and severely beating a comrade who blew the whistle.
The soldiers were deployed with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, from the 2nd Infantry Division`s Stryker brigade, at Forward Operating Base Ramrod.
The case could have explosive ramifications for the war effort as US-led forces try to win over local Afghans and counter Taliban insurgents in the pivotal Kandahar battlefield.
The charge sheets include macabre allegations of dismembering corpses, though authorities have not specified if the bones they say some men took were from the bodies of slain civilians.
US officials acknowledge they are concerned about the fallout from the case, which threatens to undermine efforts by the American military to secure the confidence of wary Afghans.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that the charges represented "an aberration" for an American force of nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan.