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US troops told to ignore child abuse in Afghanistan

US troops told to ignore child abuse in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defence has advised American soldiers to ignore child sex abuse in Afghanistan as a culturally acceptable phenomenon, says a Pentagon report.

The department’s “cultural-awareness training for US personnel deploying to Afghanistan … identified child sexual abuse as a culturally-accepted practice in Afghanistan,” says a report the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office released on Thursday afternoon.

The Inspector General, however, said that his review did not lead him to a specific command or policy guideline that “expressly discouraged personnel from reporting incidents of child sexual abuse”.

But in some cases, US military personnel deployed in Afghanistan told that “nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation”. They were also informed that it was not a priority for the US command to discourage such practices and it was best to “ignore the situation and to let the local police handle it”.

Controversy erupted last year after a New York Times report alleged that the Pentagon had prevented US troops from reporting when Afghan police and militia officials sexually assaulted children. The report claimed that some US troops were punished when they reported the abuse.

The Pentagon rejected the report as incorrect but US lawmakers instructed the inspector general to investigate the matter and send a report to Congress.

The IG’s report noted that the US Army and Air Force training do not discuss paedophilia in Afghanistan, but Navy and Marines do. The Navy training manual “advises readers to control and overcome any frustration caused by cultural differences that they may experience during their deployments,” while the Marines were told “to be mentally prepared to encounter this attitude, and to ‘move on’.”

Also, several current or former service members told investigators they were told to ignore the behaviour.

They were told that if they witnessed child sexual abuse, “they should let the local officials or police know and not interfere with the locals,” the report said. “The interviewee said that the reason given as to why not to interfere was due to maintaining cooperation with the Afghans”.

Another interviewee told investigators that the chain of command didn’t care until The New York Times reported on the issue.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2017

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