US puts price on Afghan killing spree: $50,000 per victim

Payments come as relatives prepare to give evidence in the trial of Robert Bales

US officials have made "aid and support" payments to the families of the victims of the Panjwai massacre in Afghanistan, according to a member of Kandahar's provincial council.

Relatives have received about $50,000 (£31,500) for every person killed and $10,000 (£6,300) for every person wounded in the shooting.

Gul Agha Lalai, a provincial council member, told The Independent: "This is aid and support from the American government to the families. This is not compensation."

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who is being held at Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Afghan investigators however counted 16 dead – nine children and seven adults. No explanation has been given for the discrepancy.

Survivors and family members of those killed in the attacks on 11 March in Kandahar province were also previously given smaller amounts of money by the Afghan government.

Asked whether the payout was satisfactory, Mullah Barran, whose brother was killed in the shootings, said: "Even if you gave me all of America, it still will not bring my brother back."

US military officials reportedly met with family members on Saturday morning at the provincial governor's office, where some relatives were also told that they would travel to the US to give evidence.

New theories about the massacre emerged at the weekend, as US officials said Staff Sgt Bales may have carried out the killings during two separate sorties from his base.

Investigators now suspect he left his outpost and killed several people in the first village, then returned to his base before leaving again later that evening to attack the second village. Investigators do not yet know why he returned to base or how long he stayed.

This scenario supports US claims that Staff Sgt Bales acted alone. Afghan witnesses say they saw at least two groups of as many as 20 soldiers, and Afghan investigators say they have found evidence of multiple footprints at and around the scenes.

Local residents had been sceptical that one person could have covered the distance between the base and the two villages where the murders occurred, as one village is to the north of the base the other to the south.

Staff Sgt Bales' civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, has said he believes the government will have a difficult time proving its case against his client and that the soldier's mental health will become an important issue. AP reported Mr Browne as saying his client was suffering from stress after being deployed four times to war zones. He served three tours of duty in Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan.