Former soldiers claim that they were ordered to ignore the long-established habit of local Afghan commanders for taking young boys as sexual playthings while serving on military bases.
The practice, known as bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” is common in religiously conservative Afghanistan, where extra-marital sex and female prostitution is frowned upon.
The father of one US soldier who was killed in Afghanistan has even blamed the practice for his son's death, saying that the teenage boy who shot his son may have blamed him for failing to stop abuse by a local Afghan commander.
The claims have been aired in the New York Times, which says that soldiers who objected to the abuse by their Afghan colleagues often found themselves facing disciplinary proceedings as a result.
It is alleged that the US military prioritised the maintaining of good relations with local Afghan commanders and militia leaders, who it was relying on to act as security services once American forces pulled out.
Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain who was disciplined along with a colleague for beating up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave, told the newspaper: “The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights.
"But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did — that was something village elders voiced to me.”
Gregory Buckley Senior's son Gregory Buckley Junior was shot in 2012 by a teenage "tea boy" living on his base in Helmand Province. The boy was one of a large entourage who lived at the base with an Afghan police commander named Sarwar Jan, who had a reputation for corruption, support for the Taliban and child abduction. Mr Jan denies the allegations.
Mr Buckley Senior told the newspaper that he was tormented by the possibility that his son's death was linked to the sexual abuse. “As far as the young boys are concerned, the marines are allowing it to happen and so they’re guilty by association,” Mr Buckley said. “They don’t know our marines are sick to their stomachs.”
General John F Campbell, who commands both US and allied forces in Afghanistan, denied on Tuesday there was ever a policy for forces to ignore Afghan officials' sexual abuse of minors.
"I personally have served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and am absolutely confident that no such theater policy has ever existed here, and certainly, no such policy has existed throughout my tenure as commander," Gen Campbell said in a statement, adding that he had discussed the media reports with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.
"I want to make absolutely clear that any sexual abuse or similar mistreatment of others, no matter the alleged perpetrator or victim, is completely unacceptable and reprehensible."