MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Today in western Afghanistan a team of Afghan officials tried to appease survivors of last week's U.S. airstrike by handing out stacks of money. The Afghan government also announced its official death toll from the battle in Farah province. It says 140 innocent people were killed, along with 25 Taliban fighters.
NORRIS: The U.S. military disputes those numbers. The numbers would make the attack the worst incident of civilian casualties blamed on Western forces in Afghanistan since 2001. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson made her way to the province where it all happened and she sent us this report.
Mullah MOHAMMED SHAH: (Foreign language spoken)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: His voice and hands trembling, Mullah Mohammed Shah offers the opening prayer. The elderly cleric is here at the invitation of the governor, not as a holy man but as a grieving one. He lost a son, two daughters-in-law, a grandson and more than 50 other relatives in a compound he says was destroyed by an American bomb eight days ago.
Mr. ABDUL MANAN FARAHI: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Another of the mullah's sons, Abdul Manan Farahi, recalled frantically clawing at the rubble to find their relatives. He says his wife, who was severely burned by the blast is being treated in a hospital in Pakistan. The mullah, his son and some two dozen other men from nearby Garani village have come here to the governor's compound to receive condolence payments for the attack. Relatives are being paid the equivalent of $2,000 for each person killed and $1,000 for each one injured. That's a small fortune by Afghan standards. Many of those interviewed say they'll use the money to rebuild their homes and buy new brides and livestock.
Afghan investigators from Kabul say 140 civilians in two family compounds in Garani were killed during the intense battle between U.S. and Afghan forces and hundreds of Taliban fighters in the area. Provincial officials and survivors say most of the casualties were caused by three bombs dropped by American planes, something the U.S. military disputes. The six-member team of top Afghan officials that is here to pay the villagers avoids discussing causes. The delegation is headed by Afghan Major General Shahzada, who like many Afghans only uses one name.
Major General SHAHZADA (Afghan): (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: He tells the villagers that it's the enemies of Afghanistan who forced the government and its Western allies into battle. Shahzada says the same pilot dropping bombs might otherwise be dropping wheat and other supplies but excuses and condolences soon give way to the business at hand.
Maj. Gen. SHAHZADA: (Through Translator) We brought money to pay for every martyr in our register. We'll get their thumbprints and photos in case someone shows up the next day to collect again.
NELSON: The mistrust escalates as the first survivors come forward. They are Humayun and his brother Mohammad Yassin who were looking for work in nearby Iran, when their home in Garani was reduced to rubble. They've lost their parents and remaining nine brothers and sisters.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: The general and his team members argue with Mohammad Yassin that two of the siblings he claims were killed are not on the list. He and his brother are given money for only nine of their family members. Nearby, Roohul Amin looks on. He is the governor of Farah province, who believes the payment will ease survivor's suffering.
Governor ROOHUL AMIN (Farah Province): Now we give them money and they can reestablish their family and their life and for the remaining people.
NELSON: But the cleric's son, Abdul Manan Farahi, bristles when asked if the money eases the loss.
Mr. ABDUL MANAN FARAHI (Through Translator): If I give you everything I have, would you let me cut off your hand? We lost 55 people. That's like losing 55 limbs.
NELSON: He starts to weep and says, I can't talk about it anymore.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Farah City.