American troops were told to ignore the rape and abuse of children by Afghan security forces they were partnered with, according to a report released Thursday by the Pentagon’s inspector general.
“In some cases, the interviewees explained that they, or someone whom they knew, were told that nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation, that it was not a priority for the command, or that it was best to ignore the situation and to let the local police handle it,” the report reads.
Although the report found that there was no written guidance telling U.S. troops to ignore abuse allegations, cultural-awareness training for U.S. personnel deploying to Afghanistan identified child sexual abuse as a culturally accepted practice in Afghanistan.
“There were a couple cases where service members brought it to commanders’ attention, and they said there’s nothing we can do,” according to an anonymous interviewee quoted in the report. “There’s no recourse to stop them from bacha bazi. Soldiers [were] told to ignore it and drive on.”
”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,” the report reads.
In 2015, findings by the Labor Department on “The Worst Forms of Child Labor” stated that “reports indicate that some government officials, including members of the Afghan National Police, Afghan Local Police, and the Afghan Border Police, have boys for bacha bazi and also have them work as tea servers or cooks in police camps.”
This most recent Defense Department investigation began in February 2016 at the behest of Congress, after reports surfaced in the media that Afghan forces had engaged in crimes such as rape, kidnapping, sex slavery, beatings, and pedophilia from 2011 and 2012, according to the report.
One incident that gained media attention involved Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, a Green Beret who admitted he lost his cool during a 2011 deployment to Kunduz province. Martland and his captain struck an Afghan police officer, who allegedly had confessed to raping a boy and then beating the child’s mother for telling authorities.
Martland said that he and the detachment commander, Capt. Daniel Quinn, received a “relief for cause” from that 2011 deployment for the assault, according to documentation provided to Military Times.
One recommendation from the report asks that the Defense Department determine whether child rape committed by Afghan security forces qualifies as gross violations of human rights. If so, a law already on the books called the Leahy Amendment would prohibit the United States “from using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces” that have committed such violations.
The report concludes that while ”it is difficult to determine the actual extent of child sexual abuse due to a cultural taboo against reporting these crimes, both the [State Department] and the UN reported that the sexual abuse of children is pervasive throughout Afghanistan.”
In all, 16 cases of child sexual abuse involving Afghan officials were reported to the Pentagon between 2010 and 2016. However, the inspector general explains that more incidents may have been reported, but not confirmed because of the lack of guidance on the issue.
The problem stems from the fact that there is still no specific guidance from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy on reporting gross violations of human rights such as child sexual abuse, according to the report.
As a result, the report cautions that “there is no certainty” that all allegations of child sexual abuse involving Afghan security forces were properly reported.
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 in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.