February 22, 2010:
In Afghanistan, the battle of Marjah is proving to be economically stimulating for the locals. That's because the foreign troops pay several thousand dollars per dead civilian, and less for destroyed property. Cash is paid out quickly, because most of the later claims are bogus. Scamming the foreigners for compensation is a popular activity anytime there is fighting, whether or not there are casualties. For example, scammers will take advantage of Islamic law stipulating that the dead be buried the same day, and then claim that empty graves contain the body of a non-existent family member or friend. Foreign troops are getting better at detecting the scams, but Afghans still see it as an opportunity, especially since these attempts are not punished if you are found out (although if you succeed, local officials or police may demand a cut.)
The compensation program is partly deference to local custom, partly to compete with similar (but less generous) activity by the Taliban, and partly because it buys some temporary good will. This makes it easier to for locals to go for payments offered for information on where the Taliban, or their assets, are located. An important aspect of this is discretion. Being known as an informant for the Americans can get you killed eventually. So foreign troops, particularly Americans, are taught how to develop and protect informants. Taking compensation from the Americans is not a problem for the Taliban (who will sometimes demand a cut if they return to the area). But when providing compensation, locals can be asked if they want to earn an additional payment for providing information on the Taliban or drug gangs. No one will know if you walk away with an extra few hundred dollars. The "cash for tips" program is especially useful if you can maintain a presence in the area, which is the goal of the Marjah operation, and future ones like it.
There are also some really huge rewards available. Three years ago, the U.S. undertook a "Most Wanted" rewards program ($20,000-200,000), and distributed 300,000 posters showing the men responsible for most of the hated suicide and roadside bombing. This gave Afghans a chance to personalize their dislike for the bombings, and earn some serious money if they came across any of those responsible. This program led to a lot of useful tips, and continues. It is kept quiet, because the Taliban love to find and execute informers. Sometimes they will just grab someone they don't like, and murder them for being an "informant." The Taliban now rely more on fear than admiration.