New reports indicate that Afghan units that have been implicated in several episodes of sexual assault continue to receive support from the American government.
These reports draw on a document recently released by the federal government detailing the financial and logistical aid being received by the various units of the Afghan military. The report was composed by the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), an independent body charged with overseeing the progress of the various government programs in the country. The Inspector general is appointed by the president and submits quarterly reports to Congress.
In the most recent SIGAR report, it was revealed that the US has maintained assistance for 12 Afghan units “implicated in 14 gross violations of human rights” several years ago, including sexual assault of children. The phenomenon of Afghan troops sexually assaulting minors was first brought to light in an article by the New York Times in 2015, and alleged that incidents of sexual abuse of children by members of the Afghan military and police was “rampant."
Technically speaking, the Pentagon is forbidden from assisting any foreign unit that has been involved in human rights violations. This precept has been codified in the Leahy law. However, the SIGAR report explains that officials have used a “notwithstanding clause” to override the law and continue to provide assistance to the 12 units. In other words, because defense officials deemed the operations of these units essential to the security of the country, they continue to receive support despite their indiscretions.
So does this mean that the US government is willingly supporting an organized pedophile ring? The reality is a bit more complicated.
A key element of the Trump administration's new Afghanistan strategy is to focus on equipping the Afghan government with the tools to self-govern and maintain security in the country on their own. While this goal has been officially a goal of the two prior administrations that oversaw the Afghan conflict, the Trump administration has put into practice some major steps forward in actually making this happen. One prime example is the effort to equip and provide hands-on and in-field training to as many Afghan military units as possible. As Secretary of Defense Mattis put it, this is the only way “to put together an army that’s going to...restore some degree of normalcy and protect people.”
Of course, when the US discovers human rights violations perpetrated by the people it is supporting, the government finds itself in a serious conundrum. Pulling funding from these units is not a simple matter. Who will replace them? There are barely enough capable Afghan fighting men as it is. Will American armed forces members fill the gap? Such a move would undermine the whole purpose of the administration’s current goal in Afghanistan - to enable local elements to take charge and shift the responsibility for keeping the country stable to them.
The American people have been funding a war in Afghanistan for the past 17 years. There is no simple solution to transferring the burden of governance back to Afghan authorities. The slow road ahead will be fraught with difficult decisions that may be hard to swallow.