A Republican lawmaker is seeking information about the Pentagon’s efforts to discourage Afghan forces from sexually abusing children following a report that the Taliban is using child sex slaves to mount insider attacks against police in Afghanistan.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) urged Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a letter Monday to take immediate action to address child rape and reduce the coinciding risk of insider attacks, which he emphasized pose "a direct threat to U.S. service personnel" aiding and advising Afghan forces in the war-torn country.
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Hunter, a former Marine, was reacting to an AFP report last week detailing how the Taliban has for months used child sex slaves to mount insider attacks on Afghan police forces in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban has reportedly exploited so-called "bacha bazi" to launch attacks over about two years–at least six between January and April of this year alone–which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Afghan forces.
"This is concerning given our interests in Afghanistan, but it also requires serious attention due to the presence of U.S. forces and their ongoing mission to train, assist, and advise the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces," Hunter wrote in the letter to Carter on Monday.
"Not accounting for any recommendations that might come from ongoing reviews, it is my belief that we can begin taking immediate steps to stop child rape from occurring in the presence of U.S. forces and reduce any risk of coinciding insider attacks," he wrote.
The issue of Afghan forces sexually abusing children has been a subject of renewed focus since the New York Times reported last September that U.S. military members had been discouraged from reporting allegations of child sexual abuse at the hands of Afghan forces. Some service members, including Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, faced reprimands or worse after retaliating against alleged rapists.
The Army planned to discharge Martland for physically confronting an Afghan police commander in 2011 who had been accused of repeatedly raping a young boy, but the service reversed that decision in April after a public outcry.
Hunter’s letter cited Martland’s case, as well as that of Jason Brezler, a former Marine Corps officer who was forced out of the service for sending classified information to Marines deployed in Afghanistan concerning a corrupt Afghan police officer suspected of having ties to the Taliban and abusing boys. The Afghan officer’s "tea boy"—a personal servant sometimes pressured into sex acts—went on to kill three Marines in 2012.
"It was obvious—as told to me—that Martland and his teammates could not ignore such severe human rights violations, specifically rape, and there was also a concern about the security and safety risks to U.S. operators and service members. This is especially true of those tasked with advising and training Afghan military and police forces. Much of that concern is also validated by the experiences of Martland and Brezler," Hunter wrote.
He recommended that the Pentagon immediately "impos[e] a zero-tolerance policy and ensur[e] service personnel are not discouraged from reporting cases, due to the expectation of no results, or even intervening if necessary—as did Martland and Brezler."
Pentagon leaders have denied the existence of a policy instructing service members to ignore reports of Afghan forces raping children.
Following the Times report, the Pentagon’s inspector general said in February that it would launch a full-scale investigation into how U.S. troops and commanders have handled allegations of child sex abuse at the hands of Afghan forces. Separately, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction also announced that it would begin an inquiry into the matter in January.
But Hunter expressed concern that those probes would not be completed quickly enough and that separate action must be taken swiftly to ensure the safety of American service members operating in Afghanistan.
"I would like to know what steps have been taken—following the Martland and Brezler experiences—to reduce the threat of insider attacks and address instances of child abuse that might occur in the presence of U.S. forces," Hunter wrote.
"I know you take this issue seriously. However, I truly believe we do not need to wait for IG reports to begin addressing this issue—beyond the positive outcome in Martland’s case—to send a signal that child rape will not be tolerated and that every effort is being made to protect U.S. forces from the threat of insider attacks," he wrote.