By Ben Quinn The Guardian 1 January 2013
The killing of six members of a family, including a mother and her children, when a rocket overshot a target and hit the compound in which they were living are among the incidents in recent months for which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has paid out compensation to Afghan civilians.
The cases – contained in a log released by the MoD to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act – paint a picture of the ongoing human cost of the conflict ranging from many frequent payments for crop damage caused by operations through to more serious events involving civilians caught up in the war.
An Afghan man lost his entire family in the rocket incident on 4 May, which the log lists as being due to a “weapons malfunction”.
The amount of compensation payments for 2011 (£510,728) and during the last year up to 19 November (£537,684) are considerably less than in previous years.
The MoD made £1.3m in compensation payments during 2010.
However, in a change of policy, the MoD has decided against giving details of how much was paid out for individual incidents, despite being criticised in the past for a lack of transparency in relation to the payments. It means but it is not possible to identify beyond doubt how much was paid for the deaths of the family of six, but it is known that the maximum payment this year was $31,101 (£19,111), allowing for payment of just over $5,183 (£3,186) for each of the deaths in the incident.
Sarah Holewinski, the executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (Civic), said that every line of the log “represents some type of loss”.
“Sometimes it’s 15 jerabs of corn, but often it’s the death or serious injury of a loved one, the lists creating a numerical picture of human struggle in war,” she said.
“Yet the scant details available and the lack of transparency of the UK amends programme only leads me to ask more questions, like how claims are handled, what losses are eligible, and how these amounts are arrived at. Understanding those basic guidelines is the only way we can begin to make sense of what these numbers mean.”
Other recent incidents for which compensation was paid included the shooting of a man who was working in a field last month during a conflict between the Taliban and Isaf troops, who the MoD says may have mistook him for an insurgent.
Poignant stories also emerge from details of cases where applications for compensation were denied. A child died from a gunshot wound to the chest during a firefight between British forces and the Taliban on 15 June although the MoD log states that the calibre of the round does not match the one that hit the child.
It adds: “Family refused medical aid for the child and assaulted medic twice. Medic opinion that the child could have been saved.”
Among the incidents from last year which were listed in the log were two in July involving Apache helicopter strikes. One on 23 July resulted in injury to five children. Another 20 days earlier resulted in the death of a boy, whose sister lost her foot below the knee.
An MoD spokesperson said: “Any incident involving civilian casualties is a matter of deep regret, particularly when the actions of international forces may be at fault. We have strict procedures intended to minimise the risk of civilian casualties and to investigate any that occur.
“In contrast, the insurgents often target civilians with their indiscriminate attacks and operate from densely populated areas in order to deliberately draw civilians into the battle. Payments are made to recognise the circumstances of each incident; they do not necessarily mean UK forces are legally liable.”
* This article was amended on 2 January 2013. The original said Sarah Holewinski was executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. The organisation is actually called the Center for Civilians in Conflict. The article also said a man was during a conflict between the Taliban and Isaf troops last month. The incident actually occurred in November