A Delicate, But Important Subject

David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen has been recently chasing the story of some Canadian Forces troops in Afghanistan concerned about Afghan security forces sexually assaulting young boys (latest updates here and here).

There’s still a Board of Inquiry under way after similar claims in the Toronto Star led to an CF National Investigative Service probe finding “no evidence that any CF members committed any service or criminal offences in relation to the alleged sexual abuse of Afghan male children.”

At one level,  it’s simple:  you can’t have Afghan soldiers or cops raping young Afghan men (or women, for that matter, breaking Afghan law – check page 136 of the PDF) if you expect the population to trust them.

Canada has soldiers training and mentoring Afghan soldiers, and police officers training and mentoring Afghan police officers.  What should they do?

The whole issue has generated a LOT of often passionate discussion on Milnet.ca and the Small Wars Council forums.

Many think it’s a “cultural issue” outside the lanes of the Canadian Forces – in fact, this, from Pugliese in the National Post, sums up the CF position:

“It is the position of the Canadian Forces that its troops have no jurisdiction over the activities of Afghan military and police personnel, even those operating on Canadian bases.”

Interesting, especially when compared to what then-CDS Rick Hillier had to say to the House of Commonse Defence Committee about the issue in June 2008:

“If somebody is being seriously abused, we are not going to stand by and see that continue. I expect young men and young women to have their actions mirror their values that they bring with them from Canada …. I don’t want any ambiguity on that whatsoever.”

I, among others, have asked, “how is sexual abuse of boys different than, say, keeping girls out of school?”  This tidbit, from Ken White over at the Small Wars Council, flicked a switch for me, as it were, explaining exactly why this is a tough issue to deal with:

“It’s one thing to insist on elimination of age old custom when the issue is overt and acknowledged (female status) and yet another when the issue is denied and hidden (pederasty). Try pressuring one of your friends to stop doing something they hide but you know they do; then try to get a Police Officer to accost them about it…”

So, what’s to be done? 

According to Babbling Brooks over at The Torch, something is starting to happen:

“I’m told that the OMLT’s <Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams> and POMLT’s <Police Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams> are already advising the ANSF <Afghan security forces> that they mentor that regardless of cultural traditions, it’s unprofessional conduct from a force whose raison d’etre is the protection of Afghan citizens.”

Still, given the level of sensitivity, E.R. Campbell over at Milnet.ca offers a solution (albeit an imperfect one, given the state of Afghanistan’s police and justice systems):

“Canadians may not have any direct authority to intervene or to force changes but, at the very least, we need:

1. A formal channel of reporting – so that soldiers can, at least, have “done something,” however inadequate, and so that, at the very least, the CF does not have to endure a constant drubbing in the press because it ignores the problem;

2. A formal channel for advising the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that these actions lower the level of Canadian support for the mission and for the Afghan government; and

3. A formal feedback channel – so that the soldier who made the intial report knows that something, however inadequate, was done about the issue.”

I look forward to the results of the Board of Inquiry, and I hope more can be done to deal with this kind of alleged behaviour among members of the Afghan security forces.

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