Handout photo of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales at Fort Irwin
Staff Sgt Robert Bales (left) in training camp in California Reuters

The United States has given $860,000 to the families of victims of the March 11 massacre in Kandahar province that is being blamed on U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, Afghan and NATO officials said Sunday.

The money includes $50,000 for each of 16 people who were killed, as well as $10,000 for each of six who was wounded, the provincial council members told CNN.

The American official who handed over the money said it was not compensation, but aid for 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.

It was not known if the word used for the payment had legal significance in Afghanistan, where blood money can replace a trial or punishment of a killer.

The Afghans want Bales returned to Afghanistan for trial, with villagers and lawmakers questioning the U.S. military's account of the events. But the sergeant is already back in the United States, being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and he has been charged with 17 murder counts, carrying a possible death penalty.

Khan, the local official, told CNN the money was paid in Afghan currency and handed over in Kandahar city. He did not name the American official involved in the meeting.

Bales is believed to have carried out the rampage in two stages, returning to base after the first shootings and then going out to kill again, a U.S. official told Reuters Saturday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not offer further details about the investigation. But the disclosure points to an extended timeline for the alleged killing rampage by Bales, a decorated 38-year-old veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Authorities say Bales left a remote outpost in Kandahar province's Panjwai district early March 11 and went house-to-house, gunning down villagers. His ability to repeatedly leave the base on a rogue killing spree raises questions about base security.

U.S. and Afghan officials initially said 16 people died in those attacks, but Kolb, the ISAF spokesman, said Friday that investigators assigned to the case felt they had evidence to charge Bales with 17 counts of murder.

Nine children, three women and four men from at least four families were killed in villages in Kandahar province on March 11, Afghan officials said.

They were Mohammad Dawood Abdullah, Khudaidad Mohmmad Jama, Nazar Mohammad Taj Mohammad, Payendo, Robina, Sahtarina Sultan Mohammad, Zuhra Abdul Hameed, Nazia Doost Mohammad, Mosooma Mohammad Wazir, Farida Mohammad Wazir, Palwasha Mohammad Wazir, Nabia Mohammad Wazir, Asmatullah Mohammad Wazir, Faizullah Mohammad Wazir, Esa Mohammad Mohammad Husain, and Akhtar Mohammad Murad Ali.

Four children, one woman and one man were wounded in the attacks, according to the charge sheet against Bales.

If and when the case comes to trial, Bales' lawyer, John Henry Browne, said, it is going to be extremely difficult for the prosecution.

They have no murder scene, no forensics, the lawyer said Thursday night outside his Seattle office. I'm going to make them prove every claim.