After months of preliminary research, the Pentagon’s Inspector General is launching a full-scale investigation into how U.S. troops and commanders handled repeated allegations that Afghan men, particularly Afghan military and police leaders, were sexually abusing boys.

The IG’s “research project” that began in October has revealed sufficient information to warrant conducting a “full assessment” into the matter, according to a Feb. 19 letter to top Defense Department officials from Kenneth Moorefield, the deputy inspector general for special plans and operations.

A number of American troops who deployed to Afghanistan have said they saw signs of widespread sexual abuse and believed there was a policy, even if unofficial, encouraging them to ignore the crime rather than create tension between Americans and their Afghans partners.

The sexual abuse of boys is widespread in Afghanistan, often referred to as “Bacha Bazi” — literally, “boy play.”

Several troops have said they were punished or disciplined for intervening or taking action against Afghans whom they believed were sexually assaulting children, in some cases on joint military installations.

Allegations of child abuse by U.S. allies and possibly on joint U.S. military facilities “has raised serious questions about international, U.S., and Department of Defense law or policy,” according to the IG’s letter.

According to the letter, the IG’s probe will focus on several questions, including:

• Is there or was there any Defense Department guidance, informal or otherwise, to discourage reporting by military affiliated personnel?

• Are U.S. military personnel authorized to use force to stop instances where they witness child sexual abuse by Afghan military personnel on bases in Afghanistan?

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