October 28, 2010 11:27PM
AUSTRALIAN taxpayers are paying the “market rate” of $1200 compensation for Afghan civilians accidentally killed by Diggers (soldiers). Australian field commanders now keep US dollars on hand in order to make immediate no-liability payments to relatives of civilians who become “collateral damage”. The Defence Department is keeping payments secret, but the going rate for a life in Afghanistan is about $1200.
Australian soldiers paid $10,200 each to compensate for the lives of six civilians — five of them children — accidentally killed in a night raid near the Aussie base in Tarin Kowt in February last year.
The payment also covered four civilians — two women and two children — injured in the gun and grenade attack on a village compound commandos raided, wrongly believing it harboured a Taliban leader.
Defence chief Angus Houston confirmed to a Senate committee that Defence organised a shura, or meeting, with local elders two days after the tragedy. Air Chief Marshal Houston declined to disclose the amount paid, or to give a breakdown of how the money was distributed among relatives and villagers.
He would only confirm the Australians made an immediate “act-of-grace” cash payment at that meeting. Three Diggers have been charged with manslaughter over the tragedy and face court martial.
A source told the Herald Sun the Australian forces paid about $1200 for each death and $200-$300 for each injured person, which reflects the “market rate”. Other money was paid for damage and distress.
The payments serve as compensation but are also made for cultural reasons.
Pashtun tribespeople are beholden to seek revenge where their people have been wronged, but will settle grievances with cash.
Since the payout, the law has been streamlined so soldiers no longer need ministerial permission from Canberra to pay compensation.
The new Tactical Payment Scheme brings Australian field commanders in line with US counterparts, who can make on-the-spot condolence payments of up to $2500.
There will be no itemised accounting for payments by Australian soldiers, despite a promise last year by then defence materiel minister Greg Combet that cash payouts would be “bound by strict and transparent parameters.”