Defense Department investigators are opening an inquiry into whether military officials responded appropriately to troops’ reports of child sex abuse allegedly committed by their allies in the Afghan security forces.
The Defense Department Inspector General announced the upcoming investigation this week.
It’s the latest investigation looking at child sex abuse among Afghan forces since a campaign formed in August to prevent the Army from discharging a former Joint Base Lewis-McChord Green Beret. He was disciplined in 2011 for assaulting an Afghan militia leader after a boy’s rape.
Army Secretary John McHugh earlier this month gave the soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, more time to appeal his discharge. Martland has acknowledged in letters released through a California congressman that he lost his temper with the Afghan leader after the man admitted raping the boy.
The Inspector General plans to look at what policies U.S. forces had in place to handle reports of child sex abuse among their allies.
The investigative agency also is asking how many times U.S. military service members reported instances of child sex abuse among Afghan forces, and whether they were discouraged from doing so.
Child rape is illegal in Afghanistan, but the country is known for a reportedly common practice called “bacha bazi” in which men with social influence use boys as sexual partners.
The News Tribune reported on Martland’s case in late August. A later story in The New York Times compelled top-ranking military leaders to discuss whether they instructed troops to ignore “bacha bazi.”
They denied ordering troops to turn a blind eye to unethical conduct among Afghan forces partnered with the U.S. military.
“I personally have served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and am absolutely confident that no such theater policy has ever existed here, and certainly, no such policy has existed throughout my tenure as commander,” Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in a written statement last month.
Martland was reprimanded during his 2011 deployment because he was supposed to report unethical behavior among Afghan allies, not physically force moral standards on foreign leaders.
“You cannot try to impose American values and American norms onto the Afghan culture because they’re completely different,” his former battalion commander, Col. Steve Johnson, told The News Tribune in August. “We can report and we can encourage them. We do not have any power or the ability to use our hands to compel them to be what we see as morally better.”
The Army targeted Martland for an early discharge this year as part of the service’s broad downsizing. The discipline he received for assaulting the Afghan leader amounted to a demerit that put him in line for a possible discharge.