Call it ironic, to say the least.
As Congressional Democrats pushed for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell,"--clearing the way for gays to serve openly in the U.S. military--allied forces were encountering problems with homosexual conduct among members of the Afghan security forces.
The vast gulf between U.S. and Afghan attitudes about homosexuality and pedophilia has generated concern among U.S. advisers in Afghanistan since the American presence there began to expand.
In late 2009, U.S. and British forces ordered a study of Pashtun male sexuality. They were worried that homosexuality and pedophilia among Afghan security forces and tribes could create cultural misunderstanding with allied troops, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Washington Examiner.
The study, requested by 2nd Marine Expeditionary Battalion along with British forces in Lashkar Gah, was conducted by members of one of the Defense Department's Human Terrain Teams stationed in Afghanistan. The report was authored by team member Anna Maria Cardinalli, who said the goal was to learn how to advise "U.S. and British service members who report encounters with men displaying apparently homosexual tendencies. These service members are frequently confused [by] this behavior."
The report described unease by U.S. Marines and British soldiers who felt they were being propositioned, or who were outraged by apparent acts of pedophilia by Afghan soldiers and police. It documented one case in which 12 of 20 Pashtun interpreters working with one U.S. Army unit had contracted gonorrhea from homosexual encounters.
Troops interviewed by The Examiner say they are frequently forced to deal with a radically different attitude toward sex with male youths by Afghan security forces.
"I know Marines and soldiers who have refused to work with Afghan military or police," said one U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's not about homosexuality as much as it is about the young boys. Some of them like to show pictures on their cell phone -- that should be illegal. Some of the Afghans have their own young boys they use for sexual purposes and we can't do anything about it."
In her report, Ms. Cardinalli observed that prevailing sexual attitudes in some parts of Afghanistan are creating a cycle damaging to boys and young men:
There is frequently the risk that Pashtun boys will face a set of experiences that mold their beliefs regarding sexuality as adults in ways that are ultimately damaging, both to themselves and to Afghan society," the report concludes. "It appears that this set of experiences becomes cyclical, affecting generations, and that this cycle that has existed long enough to affect the underpinnings of Afghan culture itself."
And, the impact of those experiences is already being felt in portions of Afghanistan, putting American forces squarely in the middle of complex moral, social and sexual issues. A source at Army Special Operations command tells In From the Cold that Afghan women, emboldened by the presence of U.S. troops. have complained about beatings they've suffered at the hands of their husbands. The domestic violence reportedly stemmed from the inability of the women to become pregnant and produce sons, highly valued in Afghan society.
When U.S. civil affairs teams (and other special forces units) quietly investigated the problem, they quickly discovered a common denominator. Virtually all of the younger men who beat their wives (over their inability to become pregnant) had been former "apprentices" of older Afghan men, who used them for their sexual pleasure. Upon entering marriage, whatever the men knew of sex had been learned during their "apprenticeship," at the hands of the older man. To put it bluntly, some of the younger Afghans were unfamiliar with the desired (and required) mechanics for conception.
To remedy this situation, the Army called in its psychological operations teams, which developed information campaigns in Pashtun areas, explaining the basics of heterosexual relations and their benefits, in terms of producing male offspring. It may be the only time in the history of warfare that an army has been required to explain sex to the native population, to curb the abuse of women and young boys--and retain U.S. influence in key geographic areas.
Army psy op specialists declined to discuss their efforts in great detail. But one of the "preferred sex" campaigns was (reportedly) a direct result of the 2009 survey, and the problems encountered by NATO troops working with their Afghan counterparts.
While no one in Kabul (or the Pentagon) will admit it, the recent repeal of DADT may complicate the "sex ed" mission in Afghanistan. From the western perspective, there is a difference between relations among consenting, adult members of the same military, and young boys being traded into sexual bondage with older men. But the Afghans don't see it that way--and that may lead to problems down the road.
At least one psyop specialist (who participated in a previous sexual education campaign in Afghanistan) believes the Pashtuns will accuse the U.S. of hypocrisy. Once they learn that "DADT" is gone, the Afghans will ask us: why do you discourage us from activity you now condone?"
And, as Ms. Cardinalli observes, this dynamic among Pashtun tribes must be dealt with, one way or another. Ignoring it, she writes, fails to comprehend "an essential social force underlying Pashtun culture which can potentially affect the success of the U.S. effort (in Afghanistan).
Obviously, Congress wasn't thinking about the Pashtun situation when it rescinded DADT in our military. But in our rush to grant equal rights to a very small minority, our elected leaders inadvertently created more problems on the battlefield. Go figure.