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Revealed: UK's bloody Afghan legacy

By Nick Paton Walsh

Updated on 01 July 2009

The British Army has paid out compensation for, or is in the process of investigating the deaths of, at least 104 civilians killed in clashes in Helmand in just 18 months, Channel 4 News can reveal.

A displaced Afghan boy stands in front of damaged building (credit: Reuters)

A freedom of information request by this programme has revealed a large number of claims by Afghan civilians against British forces in one of the most violent regions of Afghanistan, in which UK forces have been the main Nato force for five years.

Between December 2007 and May 2009, the UK has paid out for - or is still processing - claims that relate to at least 104 deaths.

They have also rejected claims - in the same period - that relate to 113 civilian deaths. The more recent months have seen a spike in claims over fatalities - 27 were made in April and May of this year.

The figures offer one of the most revealing insights yet into the human cost of Britain's fight against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Yet many observers say they refer to only a small fraction of the likely total of civilian casualties.

Helmand is a lawless province, two-thirds of which is run by the Taliban. Human rights workers say this environment means simply filing a claim with Nato forces and loyal Afghan officials would be a steep challenge to many Afghan civilians.

Indeed, one woman claimant told this programme she was turned away from making a claim by soldiers. Others have said they fear even carrying government-issued ID cards because they have heard that the Taliban search people and, if they find the ID cards, force them to eat them.

The figures show varying payouts, often for similar claims, and at times very low compensation for serious claims.

In January, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) paid out $210 for the death of a woman. In Musa Qaleh, in summer 2007, an incident allegedly involving the deaths of five adults and 15 children resulted in a claim for over £100,000, which was rejected.

The next year in the same town, the deaths of two children - refered to as "2 children killed?" in the documents - merited a payout of $10,000. 

The demolition of the outer wall of a house was awarded a $700 payout, as was the death of someone's son.

The MoD said in a statement: "Compensation claims brought against British forces are considered on the basis of whether the MOD has a legal liability to pay compensation.

"Where there is a proven legal liability compensation is paid. Despite every effort to target only insurgents, there are times when the ordinary people of Afghanistan are inadvertently harmed.

"We particularly regret incidents where civilians are harmed as a result of actions by International Forces. Even one death is one too many."

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