The U.S. military has paid nearly $6 million to civilians killed and injured in combat operations over almost 10 years of war in Afghanistan, according to the latest numbers released by the Army.
These sums, known as condolence payments, are among the ways the U.S. military compensates civilians for deaths, injuries or property damages that occur during fighting.
The new numbers come from spreadsheets that the U.S. Army Central—the Army branch of U.S. Central Command—posted recently to its Freedom of Information Act website. The Intercept had requested all of this data but had received it only for fiscal years 2011 through 2013—years we included in our analysis and visualization of compensation for civilian casualties published last week. The military’s figures cover fiscal years 2006 through 2014, and total $5,927,200.
In conflicts since the Korean War, the U.S. has paid out these token amounts in situations where commanders decide it is culturally appropriate. The payments are not intended to admit wrongdoing or actually assess the value of lost life or property. Condolence payments began in Afghanistan in 2005, but as The Intercept has reported, the system is far from perfect, marred by inconsistency and poor record keeping.
Like those we reported on last week, these records offer only a bare minimum of information. Most do not have a date, only the province is given by way of location, and the level of detail in the incident synopsis varies widely. Some entries are simply labeled “condolence payment.” A few include names of the victims, and are as specific as “Mr A. Khan’s truck, cow and a cord of wood was destroyed during combat activities on 27 Sept 04,” or “local national’s hand injured and lost 3 fingers.”
The most money was spent in fiscal year 2011, when the military logged 557 payments for a total of $1.3 million, followed by $1.29 million in 2010. For the first two years the program was in existence, however, there are only a few dozen recorded payments. Between October 2013 and September 2014, the most recent data, the U.S. committed to pay more than $174,200 in 89 payments.
The Pentagon has previously said that the general ceiling for condolence payments in Afghanistan is $5000. These records show greater amounts were regularly paid out — but those sometimes reflect a lump sum for multiple deaths or injuries. In fiscal year 2010, for example, there was one payment of $156,720 for the family members of 22 people who were killed and 23 who were wounded.
The earlier years include a few payments for repairs for battle damage. One payment of $160,000 was to replace “a dozen commercial vehicles due to collateral damage.”
In our analysis, we have not separated out totals for deaths, injuries and property damage, because many of the records do not specify what they are for.
In Afghanistan, these payments come from a special congressionally funded pot of spending money known as the Commanders’ Emergency Response Program. (It is also used for reconstruction and other “goodwill” projects.) The military distinguishes between condolence payments and “solatia,” which, while functionally the same, come out of a unit’s operating budget. So these condolence payment records are still only a partial accounting of how much the U.S. has paid to civilians.
You can download the year-by-year data from the Army Central’s FOIA website.
Photo: Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty