The U.S. Army on Tuesday delayed the discharge of Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland who has admitted to roughing up an Afghan police commander accused of sexually abusing a boy.
The action followed a phone call on Martland's behalf from Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to Army Secretary John McHugh.
The service later issued a statement saying, "Out of respect for Chairman Thornberry's continued strong support for our military, and his personal appeal, Secretary McHugh has agreed to postpone Sgt. First Class Martland's discharge from the Army for 60 days to allow him to file an appeal with the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records."
The New York Times reported last month that in 2011 Martland and Special Forces Capt. Dan Quinn physically confronted an Afghan commander accused of sexually abusing a boy. Quinn has since left the Army and Martland has said he is being forced to retire for intervening.
Quinn later told CNN that in confronting the Afghan commander, "I picked him up, threw him to the ground multiple times and Charles did the same thing. We basically had to make sure that he fully understood that if he ever went near that boy or his mother again, there was going to be hell to pay."
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California and former Marine, has written to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in an attempt to save Martland's career.
"Martland stood up to a child rapist," Hunter wrote. "I trust that you will give this case the attention it demands."
In a statement, Thornberry said Martland was likely caught up in the Army's so-called Quality Management Program that drew up lists of soldiers to be discharged involuntarily to meet the demands of budget cuts and the drawdown of thousands of troops.
In its response to Thornberry, the Army said it "has no choice but to reduce the size of its ranks, and the QMP process is vitally important to ensure that the Army retains only the best qualified Soldiers."
Thornberry said, "It was not until the Army was forced to shed tens of thousands of soldiers that it opened the QMP process to a population to which it would not otherwise have applied. This is the unfortunate by-product of indiscriminate cuts to our military."
"I believe the best recourse now would be to allow SFC Martland to remain in the Army long enough for him to prepare an appeal with adequate military counsel and for the Army to act on such an appeal," Thornberry said.
The allegations of sexual abuse of young boys by Afghan commanders was a main topic at a Senate Armed Services Committee session Tuesday that heard testimony from Army Gen. John Campbell, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Campbell said he has ordered "100 percent" training for all American troops in Afghanistan to report any allegations of human rights violations to include the sexual abuse of young boys.
Campbell pledged to demand action from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani if any reports of abuse by the U.S. were disregarded. "President Ghani has made it clear that he has a policy that he does not tolerate that," the general said.
"This Committee treats such allegations with the utmost seriousness," said Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"It is precisely because we're fighting for progress and fighting for our values that it's been so disturbing to read reports alleging that some of our coalition partners may be engaged in sexual abuse and other activities that contradict our values," the senator said.
"All of us consider this reprehensible," Campbell said in reply. "We'll do everything within our power to defend and protect human rights. Perpetrators must be held accountable."
"I've ordered 100 percent training of the force to ensure that they understand our human rights policy requires that our personnel report any suspected human rights violations committed by the Afghan Security Forces and this is to include any sexual abuse of children," the general said.
The allegations concerned the Afghan practice of "bacha bazi," literally "boy play," in which Afghans in authority take young boys, sometimes called "tea boys," as virtual sex slaves.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, told Campbell she had doubts that anything would be done to stop the sexual abuse unless U.S. troops could directly intervene rather than making a report through the chain of command.
She asked what would happen if Afghan authorities said they were going to ignore a report of sexual abuse. "I don't think they would say that," Campbell said.
He said that if mid-level Afghan authorities ignored a U.S. report on sexual abuse he would go directly to President Ghani. Campbell said he has conferred with Ghani about the problem and he has pledged to prosecute any violators.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.