The Pentagon funded Afghan military and security forces despite knowing that some of them were involved in numerous human rights abuses, including sexual assaults on children, a government watchdog says.
The stunning revelation came in the form of a declassified report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a US government agency tasked with delivering independent oversight of reconstruction projects and activities in Afghanistan.
The 63-page document – parts of which were heavily redacted – maintains that the Obama administration funded the Afghan military, which it knew was committing human rights abuses, including sexual assaults on children. It was composed back in June 2017, but was cleared for publication on January 18.
The Pentagon funded 12 Afghan units complicit in 14 human rights incidents in 2013, the SIGAR report said, adding that nine additional units received US funding with some limitations on the use of the money.
A law in the US called the Leahy Law forbids the US military and the State Department from funding foreign military or police units in cases where there is reliable evidence that the units have carried out gross violations of human rights.
Despite the Pentagon and the State Department being aware of confirmed human rights violations committed by the Afghan forces, a legal loophole in the DoD’s Appropriations Act allows the Leahy Law to be bypassed when support for the units in question is essential for a “national security concern.”
According to the SIGAR report, which was due to declassification in 2042, 22 of the 75 violations reported were classified at a level above “secret” and could not be disclosed, while seven involved “child sexual assault.” A further 46 involved other gross violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings and torture of prisoners. The violations occurred from 2010 to August 2016.
While composing the document, the watchdog interviewed 37 individuals, 24 of whom stated they knew about children being sexually exploited by the Afghan forces.
This revelation effectively echoes last year’s Pentagon report, which admitted that US military personnel deploying to Afghanistan had been taught that sexual abuses against children – known in Afghanistan as ‘bacha bazi’, literally ‘boy play’ – was a “culturally accepted practice.”
Service members interviewed for the report said they 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,” the report says. Some other comments included remarks “it was out of our control,” and “this is Afghanistan.”
Yet two US soldiers questioned by SIGAR also stated they had no training about reporting abuse, despite hearing or witnessing it. Another service soldier told the watchdog that he and his platoon heard sounds of Afghan men and screams of a boy that “sounded like sex.” And while they understood this was a likely case of sexual abuse of a child, the service members only laughed about it and did not report the incident.
“This type of abuse, appallingly, is a common practice,” Senator Leahy (D-Vt.) commented on NBC News. “In fact, it is a virtual certainty that it is grossly underreported. The report also revealed that DOD circumvented the [Defense] Leahy Law by using ‘notwithstanding’ authority without notifying Congress, even providing aid to Afghan units implicated in child abuse. That is inexcusable,” he said.
Meanwhile, the report concludes, “the full extent of child sexual assault committed by Afghan security forces may never be known.”