How Much is the Life of a Dead Innocent Afghan Worth?

Sunday, January 06, 2013
Afghan child injured by Americans March 2, 2011

The cheapness of human life is never as starkly on display as it is during modern warfare, which exacts such heavy casualties on civilian populations. Today in Afghanistan, where at least 15,000 civilians have been killed by various forces since the U.S. invasion of October 2001, the militaries of the United States and the U.K. closely guard the details surrounding cases where they pay compensation for lost civilian lives. Although details are hard to find, the two governments pay just a few thousand dollars per innocent Afghan life—in the rare situations when they can be persuaded to pay at all.


The British, who made compensation payments of $830,855 (£510,728) in 2011 and $2.1 million (£1.3m) in 2010, had paid only $874,707 (£537,684) up to November 19 last year. The biggest award went to an Afghan man for the loss of his entire family in a May 4 rocket incident due to an admitted “weapons malfunction.” He was paid no more than $5,183 (£3,186) for each of the deaths, similar to the $2,500 average found by a 2010 American Civil Liberties Union review of more than 800 claims by citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan against the U.S. government.


When the U.S. must acknowledge special culpability, however, the value of Afghan life seems to go up. In the wake of the March 2012 massacre of 16 Afghan villagers by an American soldier, the U.S. gave the victims’ families $50,000 for each of their murdered relatives, and $11,000 for those wounded in the attack. Even the Afghan government got into the act by making compensation payments of $2,000 for each death and $1,000 for each person wounded.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

MoD Compensation Log Illustrates Human Cost of Afghan war (by Ben Quinn, The Guardian)

U.S. Pays Families of Afghan Victims in Massacre by Soldier (by Matthew Rosenberg and Sangar Rahimi, New York Times)

The Forgotten Victims of the Bales Massacre (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

More Than 800 Iraqis and Afghans Have Filed for Compensation over Civilian Deaths (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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