Two years after it was revealed U.S. forces in Afghanistan were discouraged from reporting child rapes by their Afghan counterparts, the Pentagon won’t say if anyone was ultimately punished.
The Department of Defense Inspector General on Thursday released its report into the military’s policies on responding to allegations of child sex abuse by Afghan security forces. In 2015, The New York Times reported that U.S. troops were told to ignore evidence of their Afghan allies abusing young boys. The Daily Beast subsequently reported that troops entering Afghanistan were given almost no guidance on what to do if they witnessed or suspected that their Afghan allies were raping children.
The Inspector General report identified 16 allegations of child sexual abuse involving Afghan security forces reported by U.S. and Afghan troops from 2010 to 2016. The report said it could not be certain these allegations represented the total number reported “due to inconsistent DoD reporting procedures and an overall lack of unified guidance on reporting and recordkeeping relating to child sexual abuse.”
Eleven of the 16 allegations were reported to the Afghan government, the report said, but did not say what Kabul did with the reports. A classified appendix to the report “describes all the information identified (including actions taken in response to the allegations) about each of the 16 allegations tracked by the DoD as of November 2016.”
The Inspector General’s office did not respond to a question asking why the information is classified.
“The whole point of the investigation was to clarify the scope and magnitude of the alleged abuse. Classifying the results defeats the whole purpose,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, a nonprofit government watchdog group.
“Classification is supposed to be used in order to protect the national security, and for no other purpose,” he said. “It's hard to see how national security is being enhanced by classifying the results of this investigation. It looks like an attempt to evade public accountability for criminal acts.”
The Inspector General’s report acknowledged that some U.S. troops were warned informally that little could be done about the practice of child sexual abuse in Afghanistan.
“In some cases, 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 said.
In one example of informal advice given to troops, Montgomery McFate of Human Terrain Systems, a group that advises troops on interacting with local communities, said on The Diane Rehm Show in 2007 that her team of sociologists and anthropologists had advised troops not to interfere with “man-boy play” and other forms of child sex abuse that they witnessed or heard about in Afghanistan.
“Actually that’s part of Afghan culture and there’s not really much you can do about it,” McFate said she advised. “If you don’t like it, you can’t stop it. It’s just part of what they are. Don’t try and impose your values on the people you’re working with because you’re not going to change them.”
As a result, troops were practically discouraged from reporting abuse, namely bacha bazi (“boy play” in Dari), a term for sexual abuse of boys by powerful Afghan men — especially troops and police. The State Department said in its 2014 human rights report that the Afghan National Police were able to molest children “with impunity.”
The report gathered anecdotal evidence from “several current and former U.S. servicemembers” who said they heard about (but did not witness) instances of child sexual abuse and were informally discouraged from reporting it.
“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 stated.
The spokeswoman for the Inspector General acknowledged those anecdotal reports but says the military will leave the reporting decision up to the individual servicemember.
“U.S. Forces who observe a member of the [Afghan security forces] sexually abusing a child are not prohibited from intervening and using reasonable force as may be necessary to prevent or stop such sexual abuse,” DoD IG spokesperson Marine Master Sgt. Dwrena Allen said, quoting the report. “However, U.S. Forces are under no obligation to intervene.”
The report says the Assistant Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs agreed with the report’s suggestions to create a centralized database of abuses, and to implement clear reporting procedures to make sure all American troops know how to respond if they witness child sexual abuse by Afghan security forces or others.