- Associated Press - Sunday, March 25, 2012

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The United States has paid $50,000 in compensation for each Afghan killed and $11,000 for each person wounded in the shooting spree allegedly committed by a U.S. soldier in southern Afghanistan, an Afghan official and a community elder said Sunday.

The sums, much larger than typical payments made by the U.S. to families of civilians killed in military operations in Afghanistan, come as the U.S. tries to mend relations following the killing rampage that has threatened to undermine the international effort here.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of sneaking off his base on March 11, then creeping into houses in two nearby villages and opening fire on families as they slept.

U.S. investigators believe the gunman returned to his base after the first attack and later slipped away to kill again, American officials have said. Sgt. Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and other crimes and could face the death penalty if convicted.

That would seem to support the U.S. government’s assertion — contested by some Afghans — that the shooter acted alone, since the killings would have been perpetrated over a longer period of time than assumed when Sgt. Bales was detained outside his base in Kandahar province’s Panjwai district.

But it also raises new questions about how the suspect could have carried out the pre-dawn attacks without drawing attention from any Americans on the base.

The families of the dead, who received the money Saturday at the governor’s office, were told that the money came from U.S. President Obama, said Kandahar provincial council member Agha Lalai. He and community elder Jan Agha confirmed the payout amounts.

Survivors previously had received smaller compensation payments from Afghan officials — $2,000 for each death and $1,000 for each person wounded.

Two U.S. officials confirmed that compensation had been paid but declined to discuss exact amounts, saying only that it reflected the devastating nature of the incident. The officials spoke anonymously because of the sensitive nature of the subject.

A spokesman for NATO and U.S. forces, Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, said only that coalition members often make compensation payments, but they are usually kept private.

“As the settlement of claims is, in most cases, a sensitive topic for those who have suffered loss, it is usually a matter of agreement that the terms of the settlement remain confidential,” Col. Cummings said.

However, civilian death compensations are occasionally made public. In 2010, U.S. troops in Helmand province said they paid $1,500 to $2,000 for a death and $600 to $1,500 for a serious injury.

The provided compensation figures would mean that at least $866,000 was paid out in all. Afghan officials and villagers have counted 16 dead — 12 in the village of Balandi and four in neighboring Alkozai — and six wounded. The U.S. military has charged Sgt. Bales with 17 murders without explaining the discrepancy.

The 38-year-old Sgt. Bales, who is from Lake Tapps, Wash., is accused of using his 9mm pistol and M-4 rifle, which was outfitted with a grenade launcher, to kill four men, four women, two boys and seven girls, and then burn some of the bodies. The ages of the children were not disclosed in the charge sheet.

Sgt. Bales is being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The mandatory minimum sentence if he is convicted is life imprisonment with the chance of parole. He also could receive the death penalty.

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