U.S. troops who served in Afghanistan were previously told that “nothing could be done” about child sex abuse at the hands of Afghan security forces, according to a government report released on Thursday.
The Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General began reviewing Pentagon guidance for troops deploying to Afghanistan following a series of news stories in 2015 about widespread pedophilia by Afghan police and soldiers. Primarily at issue is Afghanistan’s entrenched custom of “bacha bazi,” or the sexual abuse of boys, who are forced to dress in girls’ clothes, dance and have sex with older men.
The Inspector General spoke to several U.S. troops who said their commanders had shrugged their shoulders when they reported concerns about possible abuse. “Personnel we interviewed explained that they, or someone whom they knew, were told informally that nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation, that it was not a priority issue for the command, or that it was best to let the local police handle it,” the report states.
One person who was interviewed said he or she had been aware of an Afghan commander keeping little boys “for pleasure.”
“The interviewee reported to the chain of command and had been told, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it,’ ‘It was out of our control,’ ‘This is Afghanistan,’ or ‘It’s their country’,” the report states.
Investigators identified 16 allegations of child sex abuse involving Afghan government officials between 2010 and 2016, though a lack of reporting guidance makes it impossible to know if this was the totality of cases. The Inspector General found that while the Pentagon had no policy expressly discouraging personnel from reporting incidents of child sexual abuse, cultural-awareness training identified child sexual abuse as a “culturally accepted practice” in Afghanistan.
In September 2015, the New York Times reported that U.S. troops in Afghanistan had been instructed by their superiors to overlook cases of Afghan police or commanders sexually abusing teenage boys, even if it took place on military bases. At the end of 2015, troops began to receive PowerPoint presentations titled “Mandatory Reporting of Suspected Human Rights Abuses.”
AFP last year reported how the Taliban exploit bacha bazi to infiltrate security ranks. The AFP story detailed how Taliban insurgents are using children to mount crippling insider attacks that have killed hundreds of police in southern Afghanistan over the previous two years.
When asked about the Inspector General report, Pentagon press secretary Dana White said troops are all obligated to report abuse allegations. “There’s a very concrete system in which they do that,” she said.