A US soldier has been officially charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder over a shooting rampage in Afghanistan, military officials said.
Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales could face the death penalty if he is convicted.
Colonel Gary Kolb, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, said Bales has also been charged with six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault.
The 38-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Washington, is accused of leaving a US military post on March 11, killing nine Afghan children and eight adults and burning some of the bodies in Panjwai district of Kandahar province. Six other Afghan civilians were injured in the attack.
The attack was the worst allegation of civilian killings by an American and has severely strained US-Afghan ties at a critical time in the decade-old war.
It is unclear what prompted the killings, but the case has drawn new attention to the debate over mental health care for the troops, who have experienced record suicide rates and high incidences of post-traumatic stress and brain injuries during repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bales was officially informed of the 29 charges just before noon local time at the US military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is being held.
His civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, said that he believes the government will have a hard time proving its case and that his client's mental state will be an important issue. Bales was on his fourth tour of duty, having served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered head and foot injuries.
The decision to charge him with premeditated murder suggests that prosecutors plan to argue that he consciously conceived the killings. A military legal official for US forces in Afghanistan noted that premeditated murder is not something that has to have been contemplated for a long time.
The maximum punishment for a premeditated murder conviction is death, dishonourable discharge from the armed forces, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade and total forfeiture of pay and allowances, Col Kolb said. The mandatory minimum sentence is life imprisonment with the chance of parole. Legal experts have said the death penalty would be unlikely in the case.