U.S. Quickly Pays Off Afghan Families of Victims in Massacre


A graveside vigil Saturday for a shooting victim. A provincial official said he was grateful for “help with the grieved families.” Allauddin Khan/Associated Press

Mr. Lalai described the payments as “assistance” to the wounded and the families of the dead, but not as the kind of traditional compensation that would absolve the accused of responsibility for the crimes.

nytimes.com | Mar 25, 2012

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and SANGAR RAHIMI

KABUL, Afghanistan — The families of 16 Afghan villagers who were killed this month by a rampaging American soldier were given $50,000 by the United States for each of their relatives who died, Afghan and American officials said.

The payments were made on Saturday by American military officers at the office of the governor of Kandahar Province, where the killings took place. The people wounded in the attacks were each given $11,000, said Hajji Agha Lalai, a member of the Kandahar provincial council.

Hajji Jan Agha, who lost cousins in the killings, said he and other relatives were invited to the governor’s office by foreign and Afghan officials, according to Reuters. “They said this money is an assistance from Obama,” Mr. Agha was quoted as saying.

Mr. Lalai described the payments as “assistance” to the wounded and the families of the dead, but not as the kind of traditional compensation that would absolve the accused of responsibility for the crimes.

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“We are grateful to the United States government for its help with the grieved families. But this cannot be counted as compensation for the deaths,” he said.

In discussions before the payments were made, American officials were also careful to draw a similar distinction, saying that any eventual payments would be out of compassion for the victims, and that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing the villagers, would still face trial.

An American official confirmed on Sunday that payments had been made to victims but refused to discuss specifics. Compensation payments are kept private as a matter of American policy, the official said, adding that it was up to the recipients to decide whether to talk about what they were given.

Sergeant Bales, who was flown out of Afghanistan soon after the killings, was formally charged on Friday with 17 counts of murder and 6 counts of assault and attempted murder. He is being held at a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

According to Afghan and American officials, Sergeant Bales walked off his small combat outpost in a rural area of Kandahar Province in the early hours of March 11 and shot and stabbed at least 16 people, including 9 children and 4 women.

American military officials in Afghanistan said that Sergeant Bales, who is 38 and was serving his fourth combat tour overseas, would have been issued a 9-millimeter pistol and an M-4 rifle with a grenade-launcher attachment, though they could not confirm that he was carrying those weapons at the time of the killings.

Neither Afghan nor American officials have explained the discrepancy between the official Afghan government death toll of 16 and the 17 counts of murder that Sergeant Bales is facing.

Afghan government compensation payments of $2,000 for each death and $1,000 for each person wounded were made in the days after the attack.

Meanwhile, seven Afghan police officers, an American soldier and an Afghan interpreter were killed on Saturday when their foot patrol was struck by a hidden bomb in a district north of the city of Kandahar, Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the provincial government, said on Sunday.

Mr. Ayoubi said the victims were part of a joint patrol of Afghan police officers and American soldiers that was headed to a village in the Arghandab district, where, according to a tip that had been received that morning, a cache of land mines and bombs had been hidden.

The American-led coalition said in a statement on Saturday that one of its service members had been killed in southern Afghanistan but did not provide details.

Arghandab was one of the areas near Kandahar that was the focus of the 2010 surge of American forces. Although the Taliban have been pushed back, insurgents remain active in the area.

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