US Troops to be Trained on Reporting Child Sex Abuse by Afghans

Army soldiers maneuver a howitzer in Afghanistan. U.S. troops have occasionally come under scrutiny for acting on their own to stop child abuse in the country. (US Marine Corps photo/Justin Updegraff)
Army soldiers maneuver a howitzer in Afghanistan. U.S. troops have occasionally come under scrutiny for acting on their own to stop child abuse in the country. (US Marine Corps photo/Justin Updegraff)

As part of the new strategy in Afghanistan, U.S. troops will get training on reporting child sex abuse by the Afghan army and police.

The new policy will be aimed at the practice of "bacha bazi," or "boy play," in which boys dressed as women dance at parties and are passed around among warlords and other authority figures.

Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO Resolute Support mission, said that the new policy "sets out procedures for monitoring, reporting and investing violations by any [Afghan] Ministry of Defense personnel" suspected of child abuse.

In a video briefing Tuesday from Kabul to the Pentagon, Nicholson also said that Lt. Gen. Tariq Shah Bahrami, the acting Defense Minister of Afghanistan, will sign this weekend "a child protection policy which will set clear procedures and hold those accountable who violate the rights of children."

For U.S. troops, "We have implemented a new reporting system, we're ensuring that all soldiers are trained, and every American soldier knows what's right and wrong, and they know that if they see a violation they are to report it," Nicholson said.

"And we're providing them the training and the means with which to do just that," he said.

Under the Taliban, "bacha bazi" and other forms of child abuse were banned, but the practice began to resume after the U.S. invasion in 2001 and the formation of a new central government in Kabul, according to reports by U.S. and United Nations agencies.

Earlier this month, the Defense Department's Office of the Inspector General issued a report titled: "Implementation of the DoD Leahy Law Regarding Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse by Members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces."

Under the Leahy law, named for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the Defense and State Departments are barred from providing military assistance to foreign militaries that violate human rights.

The IG's report "did not identify official guidance that discouraged DoD-affiliated personnel from reporting incidents of child sexual abuse."

However, "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.

The IG's report also said that DoD "did not conduct training for personnel deployed or deploying to Afghanistan before 2015 on identifying, responding to, or reporting suspected instances of child sexual abuse."

As a result, U.S. troops "may not have known to report allegations of child sexual abuse to their chains of command," the report said.

In September 2015, the office of the Staff Judge Advocate for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan prepared training slides stating that U.S. troops were now "required to report any suspected human-rights abuses, including suspected child sexual abuse," the IG's report said.

"Between 2010 and 2016, we identified 16 allegations of child sexual abuse involving Afghan government officials" that were reported by the U.S. military or Afghan officials, the report said.

"However, we could not confirm that the 16 allegations represented the total number reported to U.S. or Coalition Forces Commands in Afghanistan due to inconsistent DoD reporting procedures and an overall lack of unified guidance," the IG's report said.

U.S. troops have occasionally come under scrutiny for acting on their own to stop child abuse, and at least one "green on blue" incident resulting in U.S. fatalities involved a victim of child abuse.

In 2012, three Marines were killed at Forward Operating Base Delhi in southwestern Helmand province, allegedly by one of several boys who were living with a local Afghan National Police commander.

In 2011, the Army moved to discharge Sgt. Ist Class Charles Martland involuntarily for beating and threatening an Afghan local police commander who allegedly kept a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. Martland was reinstated following an outcry from Congress.

In his news briefing, Nicholson outlined the new guidance on child sex abuse as part of an overall Afghan strategy shift approved by President Donald Trump in August -- aimed at curbing corruption and boosting offensive operations -- with the goal of establishing control by the central government of 80 percent of the population within two years.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard,

Story Continues