Nearly one year after the devastating Kunduz airstrike the German military has decided to pay $5,000 to each of the families of the 100 civilian victims. This is the latest move in an affair that forced the German public to face the reality of the country’s military involvement in Afghanistan.
Overall the Bundeswehr transferred $430,000, stressing that the payment is only a voluntary, humanitarian measure. This was preceded by demands by the families’ attorneys, who demanded up to 28,000 euro per family. Compared to the amount actually paid, the attorneys did not get very far.
The price tag of $5,000 appears even lower if one considers earlier reports that Germany had paid $20,000 to the family of an Afghan woman who was shot at a checkpoint, and $33,000 for a dead Afghan boy.
The German compensation policy appears ‘generous’ compared to other nations militarily engaged in Afghanistan. One report mentions a sum of $40,000 for 15 people killed, breaking down to roughly $2,700 per person, paid by US commanders. Other sources state that US military commanders are authorized to pay between $1,500 and $2,500 to a family that has lost a child or an adult. The loss of a limb or other injury is ‘worth’ between $600 and $1,500; a damaged or destroyed vehicle, $500 to $2,500; damage to a farmer’s fields is valued between $50 and $250.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence confirmed recently, that payments to the families of civilian Afghan casualties have trebled in the course of 2009, adding up to at least 105 cases. For instance, $875 was paid to the family of a nine year-old girl shot in the head and $950 for the death of a 10 year-old boy. Earlier this year President Karzai paid roughly $2,000 compensation to the families of nine killed children killed after NATO admitted that they were gunned down by mistake.
Still, one must not forget that in the first half of 2010 insurgent groups, chief among them the Taliban, accounted for 76 percent of all civilian deaths in military operations, as the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan recently reported. The US and allied international forces account for ‘only’ 12 percent, leaving 12 percent unclear.
Maybe one explanation for the importance, form the coalition’s viewpoint, of financial compensation for civilian casualties in Afghanistan is a custom known as Saz . The word Saz is used for blood money or compensation in lieu of killing. All hostilities come to an end between the parties after acceptance of Saz.
How the price for compensation develops in the future remains to be seen, as does its effectiveness in a country where no amount of money will be able to undo the damage done by civilian deaths to the success and sustainability of the counterinsurgency campaign.