U.S. pays ‘blood money’ to victims of Afghan massacre

March 25, 2012

— U.S. military officials paid relatives $50,000 for each of the villagers allegedly killed by a rogue U.S. soldier this month in Kandahar province, Afghan officials said Sunday.

Payment of “blood money” is a common way to settle disputes stemming from violent deaths in Afghanistan, but the amounts seemed unusually high compared with past U.S. military practice. The money could defuse the intense anger the March 11 massacre has generated in the southern province.

U.S. military officials handed the money to the villagers Saturday during a meeting at the office of Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wesa, according to Fazal Mohammed Esaqzai, the deputy chairman of the Panjwai district council, who was present.

A U.S. official in Kabul confirmed the payments, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“The amount reflects the devastating nature of the incident,” the official said.

Esaqzai said U.S. Special Forces commanders gave villagers $50,000 for each of the 17 people shot to death and $11,000 for each of the six people wounded in the shootings. The U.S. military charged Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, with 17 counts of premeditated murder Friday. He had been assigned to a Special Forces base in Panjwai district.

“The victims’ families said that by accepting the money, it didn’t mean that they forgave the killer,” Esaqzai said.

U.S. military officials assured the relatives that the investigation will be thorough and told villagers that some will probably be asked to travel to the United States for Bales’s trial, the district official said.

Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, said he could not confirm the payments. He said military officials sometimes provide restitution to relatives of civilians killed in combat in a manner “consistent with the cultural norms of Afghanistan.” That includes financial payments, he said.

“Settlement claims are, in most cases, a sensitive subject for those who have suffered losses, and usually the terms remain confidential,” Cummings said.

Afghan officials said Sunday that a bomb struck a joint NATO-Afghan foot patrol in Kandahar’s Arghandab district late Saturday, killing nine Afghans and one international service member, according to the Associated Press, which quoted Shah Mohammed, the district administrator.

Arghandab is a farming region just outside Kandahar city that has long provided refuge for Taliban insurgents.

NATO reported earlier Sunday that one of its service members was killed Saturday in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan but did not provide additional details, the AP reported. It was not clear if that report referred to the same incident, as NATO usually waits for individual coalition nations to confirm the details of deaths of their troops.

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.
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