The showed little interest for years in tackling widespread sexual abuse of children by Afghan security forces it still funds and trains, according to a newly declassified report by a US government watchdog.
The exact scale of the problem remains unclear due to a lack of guidance on how to respond to suspected cases, a lack of training on how to report them, and in some cases reluctance to do so for fear of reprisals, said the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (Sigar) in .
“The full extent of child sexual assault committed by Afghan security forces may never be known,” the report from Sigar said.
But two-thirds of the individuals and organisations interviewed for the recently declassified report said they were aware of “child sexual assault incidents or related exploitation by Afghan security forces”, the watchdog said.
The investigation was requested by 93 members of Congress, after an article warned that child sex assault was “rampant” among Afghan forces.
The practice should raise serious concerns about American support, under legislation known as the Leahy Law. This bars US military units from providing funds, training or other aid to foreign military units that are involved in serious human rights abuses.
But a technical provision – “the notwithstanding clause” – has allowed the Pentagon to keep a flow of training, equipment and other aid to units that have committed serious violations, if they are considered necessary for America’s national security.
That has effectively allowed programmes or whole funding authorities to ignore the Leahy Law, the report said, a practice that it said Congress should consider ending.
“Although [the Department of Defense] and State Department have confirmed that some units of the Afghan security forces have committed gross violations of human rights, the Secretary of Defense has used the notwithstanding clause … to continue providing ASFF funding for select training, equipment, and other assistance to some of the implicated units.”
There is a , with targets often made to dress in women’s clothes and dance. But until the 2015 report in the New York Times, US forces were not given guidance on handling incidents they came across.
That was even though at least one case is thought to have played a role in the deaths of US soldiers in southern Helmand province in 2012. That year three marines were attacked and killed by a “tea boy”,
The Sigar report also warned that the forum that assesses reported violations for compliance with the Leahy law, has no set guidelines over how it decides what abuse should trigger sanctions.
Afghanistan funds abusive militias as US military 'ignores' situation, officials say
In August 2016 it was tracking 75 reports, seven involving child sexual assault. One was found to be credible, five are under review and one was not found credible.
The Department of Defense described the Sigar report as “speculative and not well substantiated” and fought back against its recommendation that Congress should end its discretion to bypass the Leahy Law.
America needed flexibility to “balance the implementation of the Leahy Law under the unique circumstances in with national security objectives and the protection of US forces”, the Pentagon said in a published response.