The Obama administration funded Afghan Army units that it knew were committing human rights abuses, according to a major report released Tuesday.
The report, issued by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) after urging from 93 members of Congress, notes among other things that the Pentagon continued to provide funding for Afghan security forces, even though there were credible allegations of serious human rights allegations. None of the abuses specifically had to do with child sexual abuse.
Both Secretaries of Defense Ash Carter and Chuck Hagel under the Obama administration also authorized U.S. Forces Afghanistan to request expanded exemptions for human rights violators, which is known as the notwithstanding clause. This notwithstanding clause in the DOD Appropriations Act is a method to beat the law on the books, known as the Leahy Law, that would normally prohibit such funding to foreign forces if there is credible evidence of human rights violations.
“This type of abuse, appallingly, is a common practice,” Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said, according to NBC News. “In fact, it is a virtual certainty that it is grossly underreported. The report also revealed that DOD circumvented the [Defense] Leahy Law by using ‘notwithstanding’ authority without notifying Congress, even providing aid to Afghan units implicated in child abuse. That is inexcusable.”
The Pentagon approved this notwithstanding clause to keep passing funds to 12 Afghan units responsible for 14 human rights violations in 2013.
As further noted by the report: “For nine additional units implicated, the USFOR-A commander recommended that DOD use the notwithstanding clause to continue to provide funding, except for U.S.-based professional training, minor site improvements and construction, and transportation services.”
Unsurprisingly, some of the human rights issues examined by the report more broadly include child sexual assault incidents, a phenomenon known as bacha bazi.
According to SIGAR, 24 out of 37 individuals and organizations interviewed stated they knew about child sexual exploitation by Afghan forces. In November, a Pentagon inspector general report came out with similar findings. U.S. service members were told that bacha bazi was a “culturally accepted practice,” and until media reports exposed abuse of Afghan boys, troops were not given any kind of guidance about the issue. Some troops were even told to ignore exploitation, though the new SIGAR report did not find any evidence of that order.
Two service members interviewed by SIGAR also stated they didn’t undergo any training about what to do if they witnessed abuse, despite seeing or hearing this abuse. Yet another service member said on base that troops heard the screams of a boy, and while they understood this was likely an example of brutal sexual abuse, the service members only laughed about it and did not report the incident.
As stated in the report, “the full extent of child sexual assault committed by Afghan security forces may never be known.”
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