For far too long, the American military has looked the other way as United States taxpayer-funded Afghan military units engaged in gross violations of human rights, including the sexual abuse of children.
Such abuses are not only intolerable for what should be obvious moral reasons, but also legal ones. A set of U.S. laws, referred to as “Leahy laws” after Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, prohibits the Department of Defense and Department of State from funding foreign security forces known to engage in human-rights abuses.
Despite these limitations, the Pentagon has continued funding Afghan units implicated in human-rights abuses anyway, according to a June 2017 report by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.
That report, initially blocked by the Pentagon from being released until 2042, was declassified last month.
The SIGAR report was prompted by a 2015 New York Times report that child sexual abuse was “rampant” among Afghan security forces, and that U.S. military personnel were stifled from doing anything about it.
While the NYT report fortunately spurred 93 members of Congress to call for an investigation, the story was hardly the first time child sexual abuse by Afghan security forces was reported or even acknowledged by the U.S. government.
For instance, a 2010 human rights report from the State Department cited reports by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan that “pro-government militias, including the [Afghan National Security Forces], recruited underage boys and sometimes sexually abused them in an environment of criminal impunity.”
Nevertheless, the SIGAR report is a long-needed step toward righting the wrongs of the American military’s approach to human rights abuses by U.S. taxpayer-funded Afghan military units.
While the SIGAR report notes there’s been no evidence that “U.S. forces were told to ignore human rights abuses or child sexual assault,” the next couple of lines are blacked out, and the report goes on to note that a lack of procedures and training with respect to reporting suspected human rights violations left service members with little guidance of what to do.
Though clearly belated, it was announced late last year that a reporting system would be put in place to encourage military personnel to report child abuse in Afghanistan.
With respect to the Leahy law prohibitions on funding security forces that have committed gross violations of human rights, SIGAR reports that the Pentagon has used a clause in the DOD Appropriations Act to exempt Afghan units from the Leahy Act.
As the SIGAR report argued: “DOD’s continuing to provide assistance to units for which the department has credible information of a gross violation of human rights undermines efforts by U.S. government officials to engage with the Afghan government on the importance of respect for human rights and rule of law.”
After nearly two decades of involvement in Afghanistan, it’s obscene that we even need to press our government to take simple actions to curb child sexual abuse by our allies, and we continue to wonder what the purpose of our involvement there even is anymore.
— The Orange County Register, Feb. 1