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Pentagon Deeply Concerned Over Reports of Afghan Allies' Abuse of Boys

A US airstrike killed up to 10 Afghan soldiers Monday at an army checkpoint in a Taliban-bedevilled province south of Kabul, officials said, the latest "friendly fire" incident involving foreign coalition forces. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/File)

The U.S. military command in Afghanistan was fully aware of long-standing charges that some Afghan commanders were pederasts and had sexually abused young boys who were chained to beds on American bases, the Pentagon said Monday.

The practice of "bacha bazi," or "boy play" by those in authority, including Afghan military commanders, was "absolutely abhorrent. We're deeply concerned about it," said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan was working with the Afghans "to put an end to horrific practices like this," Davis said, but the matter was essentially one for the Afghans to resolve. He said "It's a violation of Afghan laws. It's a violation of their international obligations," but "it's fundamentally an Afghan law enforcement matter."

Davis was responding to a recent report in The New York Times on the abuse by Afghan commanders of young boys known as "tea boys" or "dancing boys." The report said that at least two U.S. officers who tried to intervene to stop the abuse were disciplined.

Davis said the policy was to have the U.S. military in Afghanistan report human rights abuses such as the sexual exploitation of young boys through the chain of command.  "We've never had a policy in place that directs any military member or any government personnel overseas to ignore human rights abuses," Davis said.

The U.S. military has been aware of the abuse by Afghan commanders going back at least to 2012, when a "tea boy" linked to an Afghan commander turned a weapon on Marine Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr., at a base in southwestern Helmand province and killed him.

Gregory Buckley Sr., told the newspaper that  American officers were ordered to turn a blind eye to the sexual abuse of Afghan boys, even on military bases, because that was not the "priority of the mission."

--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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