The Ministry of Defence has paid out, or is considering, compensation in relation to at least 104 civilian deaths allegedly caused by the British Army in Afghanistan over the last 18 months, it has been revealed.
And compensation claims have been rejected in a further 113 cases in Helmand province, where UK forces are leading the fight against the Taliban.
The figures covering December 2007 to May 2009 are revealed in documents released by the MoD in response to a Freedom of Information request by Channel 4 News.
The documents show that payouts in cases involving fatalities over the period total around 200,000 US dollars (£120,000), and range from 210 dollars for the death of a woman to 39,792 dollars for an incident involving “multiple fatalities, injuries and property” in Lashkar Gah province in October last year.
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 dollars, which was rejected. The following year, the deaths of two children in the same town resulted in a payout of 10,000.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said: “Compensation claims brought against British forces working as part of the International Security Assistance Force 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 are deeply saddened by any civilian deaths and we particularly regret incidents where civilians are harmed as a result of actions by international forces. Even one death is one too many.”
Defence minister Bill Rammell rejected suggestions that the figures revealed only the tip of a much larger iceberg.
Mr Rammell told Channel 4: “We are engaged in a hearts and minds exercise. Wanting to do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties is not only a moral view, but a practical and political view. If we want to take people with us, we need to ensure we are doing that.”
He added: “We go out of our way to advertise the opportunities for compensation.
“I hugely regret any civilian casualties, but we are engaged in an increasingly difficult battle with the Taliban. We are there under a United Nations mandate as part of a coalition of 41 countries.
“We are actually there with the support of the Afghan Government and its people. The last independent opinion poll I saw still showed a large majority of ordinary Afghanis saying that they wanted the international presence there, because they are terrified out of their wits about what the Taliban would do to them.”
Andrew Woodcock, Press Association