The sexual abuse of young children, especially boys, is a long standing issue in Afghanistan – in fact, it’s considered a cultural aspect in most parts of the country. Popular among local leaders, the tragic practice is known as “bacha bazi” and posed a real challenge to the U.S. Army during its stay in Afghanistan, according to a new report by The New York Times.
It’s no secret that the support from Afghan allies became U.S. troops’ biggest asset in the war against Taliban. In order to maintain good standing with the people they were training and arming, the American soldiers were told to ignore anything they heard or saw among allies – and that included turning a blind eye to their new comrades’ sexual abuse of young boys.
What’s more tragic is the fact that most of these events occurred on military bases, in the vicinity of U.S. soldiers.
“At night we can hear them [Afghan boys] screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. reportedly told his father Gregory Buckley Sr. before his murder in 2012. He was told by his officers to look the other way as the rape was considered “their culture.”
The military policy of ignoring child abuse by the Afghan allies deeply troubled the soldiers and Marines, who instead of weeding out pedophiles, were actually arming them. Moreover, these armed men were then placed as the commanders of villages where they brazenly bullied and abducted local boys.
Although the issue has been addressed before, the appalling policy is coming under new scrutiny as it has emerged that certain soldiers have faced discipline, even career ruin, for taking a stand against it.
“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,” Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain who was relieved of his services, told The New York Times. “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.”
Adding insult to the injury, the soldiers who refused to sit by and allow Afghan commanders to continue the abuse paid a heavy price for doing the right thing – including Capt. Quinn, who was kicked out of the Army for beating up an American-backed commander who kept a boy chained to his bed.
Furthermore, Sgt. Charles Martland, a soldier who backed Quinn during the confrontation at the base, is currently fighting to continue his military career after beating up a local police commander for abusing a local boy.
“The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is nonsense),” Californian Republican Duncan Hunter wrote in a letter to Pentagon.
There are several other cases where U.S. soldiers were not allowed to do anything about child abuse. However, the army has always argued that maintaining good relations with commanders they could rely on during the war had always been their priority.
While the importance of allies is undeniable during the war, these policies raise one very important question: What was the point of saving those people from extremists only to subject them – and indeed, the most innocent among them – to something even worse?