A US government watchdog has filed a secret report to Congress into allegations of child sex abuse by the Afghan security forces - and the extent to which America holds them accountable. According to the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which on Tuesday announced it had sent the classified findings to lawmakers, Afghan officials are failing to stop sexual exploitation.
Primarily at issue is the entrenched custom of what is known in Afghanistan as "bacha bazi" - or the sexual abuse of boys - and whether the US is turning a blind eye. "Afghan officials remain complicit, especially in the sexual exploitation and recruitment of children by Afghan security forces," SIGAR said in a quarterly publication that described the outline of the Congressional report.
It states that the Afghan government has failed to identify or help victims. In some cases, the Afghan government arrested and prosecuted trafficking victims as criminals. "Victim-protection efforts remained inadequate, as all but one government-run shelter for trafficking victims remained closed during the reporting period," SIGAR said.
Under US rules called the Leahy Laws, the Pentagon and the State Department are barred from providing assistance to any unit of a foreign nation's security forces if credible information exists that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.
Nato forces headed by the US provide training, equipment and other assistance across the Afghan security forces. Defense Department spokesman Adam Stump said the State Department and the Pentagon jointly review allegations of abuses by the Afghan security forces on a case-by-case basis.
"Child rape is always heinous and certainly could constitute a gross violation of human rights; however, each case requires a factual and legal review to determine whether it is a credible allegation of a gross violation of human rights under the Leahy Law," Stump said. The Pentagon "does not condone the deeply troubling practice of bacha bazi in Afghanistan, nor does (it) have a policy that directs US forces to ignore violations or abuses of human rights," he added, noting that US personnel are required to report abuses.
The Afghan government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bacha bazi is not seen as homosexuality in Afghanistan, where gender segregation is rampant - instead the possession of young boys decked out as pretty women symbolizes power and primacy. President Ashraf Ghani this year laid out stringent penalties against bacha bazi for the first time in a revised penal code, but the government has given no timeframe over when they will be enforced.
The new rules came after AFP last year exposed how the Taliban exploit bacha bazi to infiltrate security ranks. The AFP story detailed how Taliban insurgents are using children to mount crippling insider attacks that have killed hundreds of police in southern Afghanistan over the previous two years. SIGAR said it had asked the Pentagon to declassify the report. SIGAR's latest quarterly report comes as the Afghan security forces continue to struggle against a resurgent Taliban, and US generals have said the situation is at a stalemate at best.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2017