U.S. troops deploying to Afghanistan were taught for years that child sex abuse is a “culturally accepted practice” in the country, and were provided no guidance that it constituted a violation of the law and human rights until late 2015.
A new Pentagon inspector general report reveals that although troops weren’t explicitly discouraged from reporting cases of child sex abuse, the issue was not discussed until numerous media outlets reported that troops were encouraged to ignore local Afghan officials abusing little boys.
Interviews of troops from the report suggest that military officials didn’t really care much about stopping child sex abuse.
“In some cases, the interviewees explained that they, or someone whom they knew, were told that nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation, that it was not a priority for the command, or that it was best to ignore the situation and to let the local police handle it,” the report noted.
One interviewee said after he reported an Afghan commander who abused little boys to his chain of command, he was told: “It was out of our control” and “There’s nothing we can do about it” and “It’s their country.”
“Soldiers [were] told to ignore it and drive on,” another interviewee stated.
The cultural presentation sailors had to undergo stated that pedophilia is an issue in Afghanistan, but added that readers should “control and overcome any frustration caused by cultural differences that they may experience during their deployments.”
Additionally, the presentation advised sailors that they should ask their chains of command what to do in specific circumstances.
Marine Corps cultural training told Marines that they “need to understand the culture, accept it without making judgments, and figure out how to work with it or around it to accomplish your mission.”
The training also said that sometimes Afghan men joke about pedophilia, but Marines should just ignore it and “move on.”
Marines were not given any guidance about what they should do if they ever encounter instances of pedophilia.
The inspector general’s finding was damning. Effectively, the military only started to care about the problem of pedophilia and abuse after media outlets started reporting on the issue.
“We determined that the DoD did not conduct training for personnel on identifying, responding to, or reporting instances of child sexual abuse involving ANDSF personnel before 2015,” the report noted.
While troops have been told to report human rights violations since 2011, child sex abuse was not declared as a violation until September 2016. Between 2010 and 2016, 16 cases of child sex abuse were reported to the Pentagon, but because no proper reporting mechanisms existed, the exact number of cases is unknown.
The first explicit guidance to report child sex abuse only came about in September 2015, following a report from The New York Times, which interviewed former soldiers. They stated they were told to ignore child sex abuse, despite hearing the screams of boys being sexually abused by high-level Afghan officials on U.S. military installations.
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