Pentagon: No policy to overlook Afghan abuse of children

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The Pentagon on Monday denied there is any policy instructing U.S. service members in Afghanistan to look the other way when their Afghan allies abuse young boys. 

The New York Times on Sunday reported that some U.S. service members have been told by superiors to ignore when Afghan counterparts are engaging in a practice called "bacha bazi," or boy play, and have been punished for trying to intervene. 

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"We've never had a policy in place that directs any military or any government personnel overseas to ignore human rights abuses," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters on Monday. 

The Times report also said former Army Special Forces Capt. Dan Quinn faced disciplinary action after he beat up an Afghan commander who had chained a boy to his bed. 

The Army is now trying to force Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, who helped Quinn, to retire, and Marine Maj. Jason Brezler is being discharged for alerting other Marine officers of an Afghan police commander who had a reputation for abusing boys, the Times reported. 

Davis said, "I can just tell you that there is nothing that would preclude any military member from making reports about human rights violations to their chain of command," but did not outline whether there were any policies to handle reporting of human rights abuses. 

He said U.S. forces incorporate human rights training when training their Afghan counterparts "to heighten awareness and prosecution of such crimes."  

Davis also said it was "fundamentally" a local Afghan law enforcement matter. 

"We have a number of contacts with the Afghan government — what's talked about in this are, while abhorrent, fundamentally an Afghan law enforcement matter and those are reports that are given over to the Afghan government," Davis said. 

Davis said each discussion with the Afghan government will "make its way to a higher level" and get into annual State Department human rights reports to make clear "that this is a practice we find abhorrent." 

"We monitor these atrocities closely, we've continually stood up for those who suffered exploitation and denial of basic human freedoms," he added. "The State Department's 2015 trafficking in persons report, their human rights report makes clear where we stand on the issue of this bacha bazi practice and other atrocities," he said. 

The White House also said it was "deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of Afghan boys who may be exploited by members of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces," and that countering exploitation of children is a "high priority" for the U.S. government. 

However, the White House echoed the Pentagon's sentiment that it was a local or international law enforcement matter. 

"This form of sexual exploitation violates Afghan law and Afghanistan's international obligations," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.  

"We continue to urge the Afghan and civil society to protect and support victims and their families, while also strongly encouraging justice and accountability under Afghan law for offenders," he added. 

—Jordan Fabian contributed to this report.