Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas) said Friday that the House Armed Services Committee is looking into whether U.S. soldiers were discouraged from reporting sexual abuse of Afghan boys due to the Obama administration’s push for a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Thornberry, who chairs the committee, spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill after being briefed on a report regarding Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, the decorated Green Beret who blew the whistle on U.S.-allied Afghan forces raping boys and has subsequently been discharged from the Army.
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The congressman, who has not yet read the report, told the Washington Free Beacon that the committee will explore the potential link between the Obama administration’s plan to remove military advisers in Afghanistan and the alleged Pentagon policy instructing soldiers to ignore suspicions of child rape at the hands of Afghan forces.
Thornberry said that while the briefing offered "no indication" of a connection, the committee would probe the effect produced by the "rush" to remove U.S. personnel from the war-torn country.
"It is, I think, one of the broader questions for us to look into. Was there a rush to get in and out?" Thornberry explained. "If there was, what effect did that have? So, I don’t know that that’s the case, but I do think it’s important for us to look at the context. There was an increase in a rush to get out."
"It’s part of the questions we want to pursue," Thornberry added, suggesting that President Obama’s push to scale back U.S. presence could have precipitated the policy.
Congressional lawmakers have expressed outrage after a New York Times report indicated that U.S. soldiers reporting sexual abuse were being punished. One of those individuals was Sgt. Martland, who stood up for an Afghan rape victim in 2011.
Col. Brian Tribus, the spokesman for the U.S. Command in Afghanistan, was quoted in the Times as saying, "Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law."
"There would be no express requirement that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan report it," he said.
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R., Fla.) sent a letter to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey demanding a reversal of the alleged policy. He also called on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to investigate the matter and demanded that Martland be immediately reinstated by the Army.
Martland appealed his dismissal but was rejected this week and will be discharged at the start of November.
Meanwhile, Gen. John Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has denied the existence of such a policy. Thornberry said Friday that he discussed the matter with Campbell and that there is "more work" to be done.
"We cannot expect U.S. military to be policemen everywhere they’re sent and solve every local crime," Thornberry stated. "We also cannot expect them to stop being Americans and check their American values at the door. So, this is a significant issue with broader policy implications as well as our oversight of particular incidents that we are going to pursue."
Thornberry would not say whether he believed Martland was unjustly discharged from the Army.
"It’s not about my judgment. It’s about whether this is working and whether there are particular cases that tell us there’s a problem with the process," Thornberry said.
On the larger effort by the Obama administration to scale back U.S. troops to a small force by the end of 2016, Thornberry insisted that a substantial reduction would do "significant damage" to national security and the strength of Afghan forces.
U.S. military officials are currently reviewing new options for the Afghanistan pullback that include maintaining a force of thousands of troops after the end of next year. Officials are worried that too extreme a reduction in troop level could result in a weakening of the Afghan forces under pressure from the Taliban and other militant groups, similar to what has happened to fighters in Iraq in the face of the Islamic State.
"Let’s [not] have a repeat of Iraq where we have a new additional—and some people think even more serious—threat facing us, in part because we left too early and too fast," Thornberry said.