The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan announced Tuesday the military was putting into place an “enhanced reporting system” for troops who catch Afghan forces sexually abusing children.
“We have implemented a new reporting system, we’re ensuring that all soldiers are trained, and every American soldier knows what’s right and wrong, and they know that if they see a violation they are to report it. And we’re providing them the training and the means with which to do just that,” Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson told Pentagon reporters.
The announcement came after a Washington Post report alleged that the Pentagon had tried to block and bury an independent review of the issue, citing a Senate Democratic aide.
“The Pentagon tried to block an independent assessment of child sex abuse crimes committed by Afghan soldiers and police, instead insisting on the creation of its own report offering a far less authoritative review of human rights violations perpetrated by U.S. allies, according to an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),” the Post reported Sunday.
A Pentagon spokesman denied the allegations. “The Pentagon strongly disputes the Washington Post article, and its erroneous assertion that the Department of Defense did anything other than cooperate fully over a period of two years with two inspector generals and staffs by responding to all requests for information,” Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Andrews told Breitbart News in a statement.
The Pentagon inspector general launched an investigation after a New York Times article in September 2015 revealed that U.S. troops were being punished for trying to stop their Afghan counterparts from sexually abusing young boys. Congress also demanded that an independent watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), conduct its own investigation.
Leahy’s aide, Tim Rieser, told the Post the Pentagon responded with “resistance” when Congress asked SIGAR to conduct the probe and that “senior Pentagon officials” argued that SIGAR lacked the jurisdiction for the task. Those officials – who were serving during the Obama administration at the time – were not identified, and the Post‘s report said, “It’s unclear who within the Pentagon’s senior ranks resisted SIGAR’s involvement.”
Rieser told the Post, “It’s fair to say there was an effort to discourage the investigation” and that the Pentagon inspector general and SIGAR agreed to coordinate and release complementary reports, but the Pentagon investigators “did not fulfill promises to fully cooperate.”
A spokeswoman for the Defense Department Inspector General (DOD IG) also disputed those allegations. DOD IG spokeswoman Kathie Scarrah said:
The DoD OIG initiated a research project in October 2015 in response to inquiries from members of Congress in September 2015. The DoD OIG and SIGAR met with Congressional staff and came to an agreement that both DoD OIG and SIGAR would conduct reviews. Our teams actively coordinated and we heard no complaints throughout the evaluation about coordination.
The Post‘s report also alleged that SIGAR’s report remains classified at the “Pentagon’s direction,” while the Pentagon’s report was released November 16.
Pentagon officials said the issue is classification. They said DOD OIG chose to do an unclassified report, while SIGAR chose to do a classified report, which takes a review by several different combatant commands to make sure no classified information is released.
“SIGAR issued a classified report. The DoD OIG proactively wrote an unclassified report with a classified annex. Both the DoD OIG and SIGAR are awaiting declassification reviews of our classified products by the DoD. The DoD OIG’s unclassified report had significant findings, which should be the focus of the attention,” Scarrah said.
But SIGAR and Leahy suggested that the Pentagon is purposely trying to bury SIGAR’s report.
The Pentagon inspector general’s report did not paint a rosy picture of the situation. It found that, for years, U.S. troops have been inadequately trained to report such abuse. But the Post said SIGAR’s report is thought to contain “much more detailed accounting.”
SIGAR head John Sopko told the Post in a statement: “In reviewing the DODIG’s report, it’s clear that SIGAR’s report paints a much fuller picture of the issue. It’s information I believe the American people have a right to know.”
Leahy also told the Post: “It doesn’t seem [the Pentagon] is treating this with the urgency they should … It has already taken too long.”
Nicholson also announced Tuesday that the acting Afghan defense minister will sign a child protection policy to “set clear procedures” and hold Afghan forces who abuse children accountable.