KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Pentagon's inspector general is looking into reports that American military personnel were told to ignore child sex abuse committed by Afghan security forces and government officials.
In a memorandum dated Wednesday sent to civilian and military leaders in the Defense Department and to U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, Deputy Inspector General Kenneth Moorefield said his office was seeking to answer a number of questions "relating to allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan government officials since 2011." Investigators will be conducting interviews, combing through court documents and visiting some military sites, he said.
Sex abuse of young boys -- commonly referred to as "bacha bazi" or "boy play" -- is officially illegal in Afghanistan and was banned under the Taliban, but it is widespread in areas around the country.
The practices have long been an open secret, documented in films and videos on stories of "dancing boys." But the issue came to a head over the summer after Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, an American Green Beret, came forward to say he was being discharged after he beat an Afghan police commander who admitted to raping a boy.
An article in The New York Times in September expanded on that soldier's story, with several other U.S. service members stepping forward to say that there was a policy, even if officially unstated, of ignoring the abuse.
American troops who witnessed or heard of abuse by their Afghan allies recalled being told that it was a local law enforcement matter and that the international coalition couldn't address it.
Among the information sought by the inspector general's office are details of any guidance, "informal or otherwise," that would have discouraged American military personnel from reporting abuse.
Investigators are also seeking information about laws or regulations that govern the duty of service members to report abuse and how the Defense Department was supposed to respond to such reports; what training is offered to service members; and how many cases of child abuse have been officially reported.
The controversy has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers in Washington.
"It's bad enough if we were ignoring this type of barbaric and savage behavior, it's even worse if we are punishing American heroes who try to stop it," Rep. Vern Buchanan, R.-Fla., wrote in a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh in early October.
Senators grilled Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, about the issue during testimony on Oct. 6.
"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," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Campbell during the hearing.
Campbell told Congress that he knew of no reports filed by U.S. troops about Afghan sex abuse since he took command last year and that there was no policy against reporting abuse.
The Afghan government denies that it is failing to act against alleged abusers, who are reported to include people in powerful positions in local communities and security forces.