U.S. commander in Afghanistan denies child sex abuse was tolerated

KABUL (Reuters) - The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Tuesday denied there was ever a policy for forces to ignore Afghan officials' sexual abuse of minors, days after a newspaper reported troops were told to look the other way to preserve relations with allies. Gen. John F. Campbell, who commands both U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, said he had discussed the media reports with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The New York Times reported on Sunday that U.S. service members stationed in Afghanistan had been instructed by superiors not to intervene when they witnessed Afghan police officers and military commanders abusing minors, even when the abuse occurred on military bases. "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," Campbell said in a statement. "I want to make absolutely clear that any sexual abuse or similar mistreatment of others, no matter the alleged perpetrator or victim, is completely unacceptable and reprehensible." Afghanistan's government has tried to crack down on the practice of "bacha bazi" - literally, "boy play" - which has a long history in northern Afghanistan. Teenage boys dress up as girls and dance for male patrons, and some are turned into sex slaves by wealthy and powerful men. The U.S. State Department, in its annual Human Trafficking report, published in July, pointed to the issue of bacha bazi, and said some Afghan law enforcement officials allow those who abuse minors to escape punishment in exchange for bribes. (Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Dominic Evans)