WASHINGTON - The Pentagon denied on Monday that the US military has a policy directing forces to ignore the sexual abuse of minors by Afghan officials, after a newspaper reported that troops were told to look the other way in order to maintain good ties with Afghan allies.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that US service members stationed in Afghanistan had been instructed by superiors not to intervene when they witnessed Afghan police officers and military commanders abusing minors, even when the abuse occurred on military bases.
Afghanistan's government has tried to crack down on the practice of "bacha bazi" - literally, "boy play" - which has a long history in northern Afghanistan. Teenage boys dress up as girls and dance for male patrons, and some are turned into sex slaves by wealthy and powerful men, often former warlords.
Some US service members who had intervened when they witnessed or heard of abuse were punished for doing so, the New York Times reported.(nyti.ms/1Fo2b8u)
"I can tell you we've never had a policy in place that directs any military member or any government personnel overseas to ignore human rights abuses," said Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. "The practices described in that article, we find absolutely abhorrent."
"There's nothing that would preclude any military member from making reports about human rights violations to their chain of command," he added.
The US State Department, in its annual Human Trafficking report, published in July, pointed to the issue of bacha bazi, and said some Afghan law enforcement officials allow those who abuse minors to escape punishment in exchange for bribes.
"The government's prosecution and victim protection efforts remained inadequate," the report said.