US commander: No policy to ignore sexual abuse in Afghanistan

US commander: No policy to ignore sexual abuse in Afghanistan

Army Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, on Tuesday pushed back against reports that U.S. troops serving there have ever been told to ignore sexual abuse of children by their Afghan counterparts.  

"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," Campbell said in a statement. 

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The issue has received renewed attention after The New York Times published a report on Sunday that said some U.S. troops were allegedly told by supervisors to ignore abuse of young boys by Afghan security forces, and have even been punished for trying to intervene or tell others.  

The Pentagon on Monday condemned the abuse of young boys — a practice in Afghanistan known as bacha bazi — but said it was a local law enforcement matter for the Afghan government.

A Pentagon spokesman said Afghan troops were also given human-rights-abuse training, and that U.S. forces would continue to work with the Afghan government and civil society partners to heighten awareness of human rights.  

Campbell also added that he expects that "any suspicions of sexual abuse will be immediately reported to the chain of command, regardless of who the alleged perpetrators or victims are." 

He said that the U.S. chain of command "will take appropriate action under applicable law, as well as [Department of Defense] and service regulations." 

"If the abuse involves Afghans, a report shall be forwarded to me through operations channels, copied to the Staff Judge Advocate, so that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan can be advised and requested to take action," he said. 

Campbell said he has spoken personally with Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani about the issue and that he has made it clear that the Afghan government "will not tolerate the abuse of its children, or any of its people and will thoroughly investigate all allegations and administer justice appropriately." 

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, the former top commander in Afghanistan, on Tuesday echoed Campbell's statements that there has never been a policy to ignore the abuse. 

Petraeus said the behavior by certain Afghans "clearly is absolutely reprehensible." 

The first line of counterinsurgency guidance to troops says to protect the Afghan people. 

"There's no way that kind of behavior would be seen as helping to serve the Afghan people," he added.