By Major Dennis Sugrue
It is an unfortunate reality of war that innocent civilians are harmed. As a US Army Soldier, I recognize the importance of protecting civilians, especially during combat operations. Despite our care, civilian casualties and property damage do occur. I recall the great initiative that we took in Afghanistan to make amends and offer closure to harmed civilians and their families.
From 2006-2007, I deployed to northern Kunar Province, Afghanistan. This is a mountainous and exceptionally remote area. It is accessible by a single road closed periodically due to rain storms. Rain was infrequent, but came in torrents when it arrived. As part of my duties, I interacted with Afghan civilians who had been injured or lost property due to military actions. Victims would arrive at the gate of our base and, in most cases, I would meet with them. I would listen to their claims, often over tea, and try to determine validity. I would walk valid claims to our pay officer and often make monetary compensation in that same meeting. In these sessions, I also tried to learn about their lives and offer them a glimpse into American life by exchanging stories.
To help these victims, the Army offered compensation or solatia payments. Compensation usually takes the form of monetary payment and medical treatment. Monetary compensations for damaged property, lost livelihoods, or personal injury are somewhat common in Afghanistan. These payments are consistent with cultural norms and important to economic stability, but they can fall short of “making things better.” It was my experience that civilians injured in a warzone often want something far simpler and more valuable – closure. They seek a human connection offering condolence. A sincere apology does more to offer closure than any payment possibly could. Solatia activities should have the ultimate goal to provide a sense of closure for the civilians who suffer losses in combat zones.