REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- The U.S. paid families of Afghans killed earlier this month in a shooting spree allegedly committed by an American soldier substantially more than it usually does in such cases because of the horrific nature of the massacre, according to senior military officials.
Relatives received payments of about $50,000 for each of the nine children and eight adults who died.
The compensation is substantially higher than the usual payments the U.S. military makes when it kills civilians in Afghanistan -- about $2,500 per victim -- but officials said it was justified in this instance.
"I think the unique circumstances of this warranted a little more leeway on the amount," a senior military official said Monday.
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Lt. Gen. John V. Allen, said the payments were justified even though the accused soldier, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, has been charged but not convicted of the crime. Such payments are common in Afghanistan after killings, he said.
"We've done that in the past, and in this case we believe it was appropriate given the circumstances," Allen told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
The number of dead was originally reported as 16. Allen said that number came from Afghans immediately following the shootings, but that another victim was identified later.
"We should not be surprised that in fact as the investigation went forward an additional number was added," he said.
Another senior military official said there was no evidence that the additional victim was a fetus, disputing media reports that quoted local Afghan officials as saying that one of the female casualties was found to be pregnant.
The additional victim was an adult who was identified after investigators went to the scene, said the U.S. military officer, speaking anonymously because he was discussing an ongoing investigation.
-- David S. Cloud
Photo: Afghan security forces stand guard March 11 outside a home where witnesses say Afghans were killed by a U.S. soldier. Credit: Allauddin Khan / Associated Press