Calculating the price of a civilian life in Afghanistan

Men stand next to blood stains and charred remains inside a home where witnesses say Afghans were killed by a U.S. soldier
Men stand next to blood stains and charred remains inside a home where witnesses say Afghans were killed by a U.S. soldier in Panjwai, Kandahar province on March 11, 2012. AP Photo

(CBS News) - Civilian casualties caused by NATO forces have becomes a major source of tension between Afghanistan and allied troops over the last month.

Anger in Afghanistan has reached a boiling point after recent incidents involving the burning of Korans at a NATO base and Sunday's shooting spree by a U.S. soldier in Kandahar province which killed 16 locals.

The United States usually pays up to $2,500 for civilians killed in lawful operations such as air strikes, according to an investigation by CIVIC, a rights advocacy group

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The study, compiled two years ago, has been regularly updated. It is unclear if the United States intends to pay reparations to the families of 16 people suspected to have been killed by a U.S. staff sergeant in Kandahar, Reuters reported. Eleven victims were said to come from one family.

The payments are traditionally allocated in the case of accidental death.

"If it is determined this shooting incident is a violation of international law, which by all accounts it seems to be, then the victims are legally entitled to full accountability and redress, including in the form of compensation," Sarah Holewinsk, executive director of CIVIC, told CBS News.

Historically, each time the U.S. goes to war, a decision is made about whether to authorize payments for civilian deaths. At the beginning of both the Afghan and Iraq wars, the United States Central Command declined to authorize claims for civilians suffering losses due to U.S. combat operations. Then in September 2003, the highest level of command in Iraq authorized what it called "solatia-like" payments. Two years later in November 2005, condolence payments were approved for use in Afghanistan.

Reuters has calculated a country-by-country breakdown of payments by the U.S. and major NATO allies.

United States

With 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, the United States pays up to $2,500 for civilian deaths and payments above that figure are rare. U.S. special forces, however, make no disbursements, but rely on other local U.S. or Afghan forces. Field commanders have significant control over payouts and sometimes U.S. forces pay even if it is unclear who was to blame.


Britain has around 9,500 soldiers, mainly in volatile Helmand province. British forces have paid between $210 and $7,000 for deaths. From 2007-2010, London paid 1,142 claims totaling more than $1.2 million - about $100,000 was paid in total for injuries and $150,000 for deaths. The rest was for damages claims.


Berlin, with 4,700 troops in Afghanistan, has no set policy for giving assistance to civilians harmed in operations. In August 2008, Germany dished out $20,000 in cash and a car worth $5,000 to a family after its troops shot dead three family members at a checkpoint.


In May 2009, Italy gave out around $13,500 to a family of a 14-year-old girl killed at a checkpoint. Like Germany, Italian forces also do not have a standard policy for paying victims. It has almost 4,000 soldiers in the country, based mostly in the west, near the border with Iran.

Other countries

Norway made a payment of $8,000 to a family of someone killed by its forces in 2009. Australia, the largest non-NATO troop contributor, disbursed around $120,000 for four incidents involving one or more deaths or injuries from 2001 through May 2009. Poland makes payments of up to $2,500. The Dutch, who have now withdrawn most soldiers, have paid about $475,000 for civilian losses from 2006 to 2010 and were responsible for at least 80 deaths and 120 injuries, mainly in southern Uruzgan.

SOURCE: 2010 report by Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC)