KABUL: Relatives of 17 people shot dead in a rampage by a US soldier in southern Afghanistan have been paid tens of thousands of dollars in compensation, a tribal chief and government officials said Sunday.
The money — provided by the US military — was handed over at a private ceremony at the Kandahar provincial governor’s office, they said.
“The elders called me and said they were paid $50,000 per person for the dead and $11,000 for the injured per person,” Haji Agha Lalai, a tribal chief and a member of the Kandahar provincial council, told AFP.
The killings — mostly of women and children — in Panjwai district are thought to be the deadliest crime by a US soldier during the decade-long conflict and have tested Washington and Kabul’s already tense relationship to the limit.
The US is keen to draw a line under the massacre earlier this month as far as it can and the sums — around $900,000 in total — amount to a fortune in rural Afghanistan.
The payments on Saturday came a day after Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, 38, of the US 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, was formally accused of 17 premeditated murders for the killings — charges that could carry the death penalty.
He is also accused of six counts of assault and attempted murder.
Afghan government officials speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed the payments but differed slightly on the amounts, citing them as 2.3 million Afghanis ($46,000) each for the families of the dead and 500,000 Afghanis for the injured.
American officers, local government leaders and tribal elders were present at the event, they said.
Local government officials in Kandahar declined to comment.
In Kabul a spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force declined to confirm any payment had been made.
“As a matter of policy ISAF does not make restitution for losses resulting from combat, combat-related activities or operational necessity,” he said.
But he added: “Individual troop-contributing nations may participate in some form of restitution consistent with the cultural norms of Afghanistan.” Such payments are normally kept confidential, he added.
Fears had been expressed that if the families received compensation they could be targeted by Taliban militants who consistently threaten anyone who receives money from the United States or other foreign forces in Afghanistan.
The massacre has deepened a sense of crisis in the Nato mission and renewed questions about the effect of protracted ground wars on America’s stretched force, becoming just the latest in a series of damaging setbacks since January.
Bales allegedly walked off his combat outpost under cover of darkness on March 11 and killed 17 people in two nearby villages, burning some of their bodies before returning to the base and surrendering.
The New York Times on Sunday cited an unnamed US official saying investigators suspect Bales committed the shootings in two separate sets, going back to the base in between.
Responding to the charges against the soldier, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said: “We want justice and we want it as soon as possible.”Bales is currently being held at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and a spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his home station, said it was likely to be 18-24 months until any trial.
The soldier’s lawyer John Henry Browne has said his client suffered from amnesia, and that he could pursue the case on the grounds of “diminished capacity” due to an emotional breakdown. (AFP)