It was the winter of 2010 and the poppy fields of Marjah, Afghanistan took most of the day until they thawed into a muddy soup.
Pfc. Daniel Ledbetter was a machine gunner in a section of MATV’s — big up-armored trucks that resupplied various outposts scattered around the city. On one resupply run his detachment of vehicles stopped at a checkpoint manned by Afghan National Civil Order Police, known as ANCOP.
As the trucks idled at the intersection, a family living in a house adjacent to where the police were located approached one of the vehicles.
“The family came out and told us that the ANCOP were raping their kids,” said Ledbetter, now separated.
Ledbetter assumed that it would go up the chain of command and something would be done about it, but nothing happened.
“[They] turned a blind-eye to it,” he said. “I guess I think higher ups were afraid to upset the ANCOP and have them start shooting us.”
That was 2010. Now after a recent article in the New York Times detailed extensive sexual abuse at the hands of the United States’ Afghan allies, the Pentagon and the top U.S. general in Afghanistan are assuring a disturbed public that no policy of ignoring complaints of sexual assault ever existed, nor was encouraged during the last 14 years.
“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,” wrote Army Gen. John Campbell in a strongly worded statement released Tuesday.
The New York Times report chronicled the story of a number of Marines and soldiers who witnessed Afghan soldiers sexually abusing children. Some service members were told to ignore it, while one soldier, Army Capt. Dan Quinn, was kicked out of Afghanistan for intervening.
The Pentagon echoed Campbell’s statements, with Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook telling reporters Tuesday that, “there is no policy in place that directs any U.S. military or government personnel overseas to ignore human rights abuses.”
For Ledbetter, the incident in Marjah was just the precursor to what he would experience on his next deployment to Sangin, Afghanistan in 2011.
“In Sangin my platoon shared a compound with a company of [Afghan National Army] soldiers and their captain had a different boy there every week,” said Ledbetter, adding that his platoon commander tried to put a stop to it by going to the Afghan captain.
“He said we couldn’t have [civilians] on our base staying the night and the captain said it was his right to have one,” he added.
Ledbetter’s experience was not an isolated one and the issue seems to have manifested itself in Iraq as well. And while there may have been no policy on ignoring complaints, practice suggests that is what happened, according to veterans.
Rampant sexual abuse among the ranks of Afghan police officers was also chronicled in the 2013 VICE documentary “This is What Winning Looks Like” which can be watched below: