‘Forgotten children of war’: UK paid compensation for at least 64 child deaths in Afghan operations

The UK government has paid compensation for at least 64 deaths of Afghan children, four times more than the 16 publicly acknowledged casualties by British forces during military operations.

An analysis of the compensation payments – an average of £1,656 to each children’s family – revealed there were 38 incidents involving 64 confirmed children deaths, according to the charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV).

The fatalities happened in military operations between April 2007 and December 2012 in Afghanistan during airstrikes on terrorist camps.

However, the child fatalities could actually be as high as 135 if descriptions of death such as son, daughter, or nephew are included. Some of the deaths are described merely as sons and daughters in the documents by MoD without mentioning ages or circumstances.

AOAV said that the chances of underestimation of child fatalities could be because of the high average of the young population in Afghanistan.

“In total, some 164 people (adults and children) were killed in those attacks involving confirmed or suspected children,” the report said.

According to the records, the youngest casualty was a one-year-old child and the oldest was 15, with the average age being six.

Most of these deaths happened during crossfires and airstrikes, raising questions about the military not properly adhering to rules of engagement.

“Some 68 of the 135 confirmed and suspected child deaths were from airstrikes, constituting some 50 per cent of all deaths,” it added.

In one of the worst fallouts of the operations, an airstrike in a village in Nawa district of Helmand killed eight members of the same family. The case was brought by the uncle for the death of his nephew along with his two wives and five children. The man settled for a smaller but immediate payment of £7,205 for eight deaths.

In another December 2009 case, the British government compensated a father with £4,224 – just over £1,000 per death – for the killing of four children. The children were shot dead by British forces as they battled the Taliban in Bolan Dasht in Nad Ali.

The MoD paid out £688,000 for 289 deaths of Afghan children between 2006-14.

Human rights groups have criticised US and UK forces, deployed in Afghanistan for Nato-led military operations, for high civilian casualties and the way they investigated them.

The US has also ordered a major investigation to review the way the Pentagon is investigating civilian casualties. US defence secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a review after an airstrike during the withdrawal from Kabul last year killed 10 civilians.

Iain Overton, executive director of Action on Armed Violence, said: “The number of children killed following British military action in Helmand should give pause for thought.

“War invariably leads to death and modern war will always bring civilian casualties, but not reporting on such deaths – however much it might be a source of regret and horror to the soldiers involved in the killings and however accidental such deaths were – would be an omission of responsibility and an erosion of truth.”

He added: “This report hopes to give some details to the often-forgotten children killed in war and, in some way, to send a warning to future Westminster politicians who might consider sending troops into battle.”

In a statement, the UK MoD said: “Any civilian death during conflict is a tragedy, more so when children and family members are involved.

“The UK Armed Forces works hard to minimise that risk, which regrettably can never be entirely eliminated.”

It added that it investigates reports of civilian casualties and they are always open to re-examining when new information is submitted.