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US paid close to $50,000 per shooting spree death, American official tells NBC

Updated at 11 a.m. ET: KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The United States paid close to $50,000 in compensation for each Afghan killed in the shooting spree attributed to a U.S. soldier in southern Afghanistan, a U.S. official told NBC News on Sunday.

The official, who asked not to be named, would not say exactly how much was paid to the families, but added the amount was close to the $50,000 reported by Afghan officials.

"The amount reflects the extraordinarily devastating nature of the incident," he said.

Average annual income in Afghanistan is $425, according to the BBC.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of sneaking out of his base before dawn on March 11 then creeping into the houses of two nearby villages and opening fire on sleeping families within. The U.S. military has charged Bales with 17 murders.

Bales charged with 17 counts of murder in Afghanistan massacre

The 38-year-old soldier is accused of using his 9mm pistol and M-4 rifle, which was outfitted with a grenade launcher, to kill four men, four women, two boys and seven girls, then burning some of the bodies.

The Associated Press earlier reported that the families of the dead received $50,000 for each person killed on Saturday at the governor's office, citing Kandahar provincial council member Agha Lalai.

Agha Lalai told the AP that each wounded person has received $11,000 and that they were told the money was from U.S. President Barack Obama. Community elder Jan Agha has confirmed the same figures.

US officials: Soldier split Afghan massacre in two

The American official who handed over the money said it was not compensation, but the U.S. government offering to help the victims and their families, Kandahar provincial council member Haji Nyamat Khan said.

But a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, Col. Gary Kolb, said the money was compensation.

NBC's Atia Abawi, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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