The U.S. military did not provide its service members with explicit guidance or training on how to report instances of child abuse by Afghan forces prior to 2015, according to a report released Tuesday.
While the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, found no evidence that the Defense Department condoned these human rights violations by Afghan forces or instructed service members to ignore the abuse, the department didn’t provide troops with the proper training on how to report such incidents.
The report was conducted at the request of 93 members of Congress and released to them in June 2017. After receiving the report, Congress removed the clause in defense spending that allowed Afghan units accused of human rights violations to continue receiving U.S. funds.
The report also states that DoD did not have guidance specifically requiring the reporting of human rights violations in Afghanistan until November 2011.
The majority of U.S. forces left Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
As a result, the full extent of child sexual assault committed by Afghan security forces may never be known, SIGAR reported.
In its report, SIGAR stated that about 65 percent of individuals and organizations interviewed, who were involved with the administration and defense of Afghanistan, said they were aware of child sexual assault incidents or related exploitation by Afghan security forces.
The report said 24 of its 37 interviewees reported that they were aware of incidents of child abuse, commonly called bacha bazi.
Bacha bazi, which translates as “boy play,” is a cultural practice in which “powerful or wealthy local figures and businessmen sexually abuse young boys who are trained to dance in female clothes,” according to a separate report released in November by the Pentagon’s inspector general.
The report also cited two service members who disclosed directly observing or hearing what they believed to be evidence of child sexual assault, but said they did not receive training on how to address the abuse.
A third service member said he heard the sounds of Afghan men and boys screaming in “what sounded like sex.”
“All the service members at his base understood that sex occurred between boys and [Afghan National Police] personnel,” he explained.
While he and his fellow service members talked and laughed about it, he added, “they did not take action to report it,” SIGAR’s report reads.
Another individual said they recalled a situation that at the time appeared to be “an odd culture thing” and could be evidence of a boy being exploited by an Afghan police official.
SIGAR’s report also addressed the implementation of the Leahy Law in Afghanistan.
Although that law prohibits providing funds to human rights violators, the “notwithstanding clause” within the Department of Defense Appropriations Act was used to continue providing assistance to 12 Afghan security force units implicated in 14 gross human rights violations in 2013, according to SIGAR.
As a result, key findings in the report focus not just on the extent of child sexual abuse by Afghan forces, but the knowledge of it among U.S. forces involved in reconstruction.
Interviewees included current and former U.S. service members, defense contractors, international representatives, non-government organizations and journalists.
After the report was provided to Congress, its members removed the “notwithstanding clause” from the fiscal 2018 defense spending bill, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The committee wrote that the clause was not intended to be used to “withhold support from units involved in human rights abuses under the Leahy law.”
Originally, the “notwithstanding clause” was envisioned as means to protect U.S. forces in combat who may be serving alongside Afghan forces.
“Withholding of assistance could present risks to U.S. or coalition forces,” the committee wrote. “In those exceptional cases ... the Committee believes the exceptional circumstances waiver and Congressional notification requirements of the Leahy law should be utilized [instead].”
Additionally, the Senate Appropriations Committee directed the Secretary of Defense to follow SIGAR’s recommendation and establish a position “responsible for overseeing and supporting Leahy Law implementation in Afghanistan.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer