Ainuddin Khudairaham held down the trigger of his Kalashnikov and kept firing on unarmed U.S. Marines until the rifle’s magazine was empty, murdering three and wounding one. The Americans had been working out at a gym on Forward Operating Base Delhi in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province when the teenaged boy attacked on Aug. 10, 2012. “I just did a jihad,” Khudairaham bragged to Afghan police afterward.
Among those cut down was Lance Cpl. Gregory T. Buckley, Jr. In 2015, The New York Times relayed the contents of his final phone call home, in which he told his father that Afghan police officers—those venerable allies of the United States—had been raping little boys on the base. “At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine told his father. Buckley, Sr., encouraged his son to report the incidents, but his son demurred. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture,” he told the Times.
This Afghan cultural institution—the rape of young boys by adult men—is known as bacha bazi, or “boy play.”
The U.S. government’s role in enabling Afghan pedophilia quickly lost it even the pretense of moral legitimacy in its delusional nation-building project. It should disabuse Americans of any idea to the contrary, though their government continues to claim it was on the side of good. Good and evil, it turns out, are hard to see clearly in the endless moral midnight that is the Graveyard of Empires.
Due partly to the American military’s doctrine of cultural sensitivity that Buckley mentioned, the U.S. deliberately downplayed, ignored, and effectively subsidized the practice of child sexual abuse with taxpayer dollars. This is all the more ironic since this practice had previously been stamped out by the Taliban. The victims of bacha bazi are plucked from the ranks of Afghan society’s most vulnerable people: destitute, starving children without relatives, or sons of poor families willing or desperate enough to sell or “rent” their children. Usually forced to dress as women and dance for the entertainment of grown men, they often perform for male-only parties where they are sexually exploited, gang-raped, and sometimes killed.
These “tea boys” or “chai boys” are generally considered a perverse luxury of the wealthy and powerful, but the practice is widespread. As many as 50 percent of men in the Pashtun tribal areas of southern Afghanistan engage in the bacha bazi custom. Observers claim that no less than one out of every five Afghan weddings includes “boy play,” according to an article by John Marshall Law School professor Samuel Jones.
During the 1980s, U.S.-backed mujahideen commanders fighting in the Soviet-Afghan war regularly engaged in acts of pedophilia. Indeed, the part that got left out of the 2007 movie Charlie Wilson’s War about the U.S. support for the Afghan insurgents is that our government was arming and training pedophiles—and continued to do so through the present. As Chris Mondloch noted in his 2013 article “Bacha Bazi: An Afghan Tragedy” in the magazine Foreign Policy, mujahideen warlords “fought communism in the name of jihad and mobilized thousands of men by promoting Islam, while sexually abusing boys and remaining relatively secular themselves.”
Enter the Taliban. The story goes that after the Taliban founder, Mullah Omar, intervened to save a young boy who was going to be sodomized by two militia commanders, appeals from locals for the Taliban’s help began to pour in. The Taliban took it upon themselves to protect teenage boys from sexual predators. From there it began arbitrating other disputes among locals, and its political power continued to grow.
In other words, popular outrage at the pedophilia fueled by U.S. government allies dating back to the Soviet-Afghan War contributed to the Taliban’s rise. The Taliban eschewed sodomy, homosexuality, and promiscuity. Before their religious strictures were applied, Kandahar’s Pashtuns were so notorious for their sexual depravity that the locals would say birds flew over the city using only one wing—they needed the other to cover their posterior.
Some Afghans contend that bacha bazi is perfectly consistent with Sharia law. Others concede that obscene social customs tend to supersede religious values in the region. “We know it is immoral and unIslamic, but how can we quit?,” one Afghan man told Jones. “We do not like women, we just want boys.” The Taliban settled this debate when they took power in the mid-1990s and made the practice punishable by death, which was in force until the 2001 U.S. invasion. After the Taliban’s ouster, writes Mondloch, former mujahideen commanders regained power and “brought with them a rekindled culture of bacha bazi.” They would serve as U.S.-backed governors, line ministers, military commanders, and police chiefs.
By at least 2009, the Department of Defense was aware of the resurgence of child sexual abuse in Afghanistan and that it was occurring on military bases. A 2018 government watchdog report lists 5,753 cases of abuse, many by Afghan commanders engaged in pedophilia. The U.S. spent more than $2 trillion during the Afghan war, but as senior analyst Emily Prey notes in an article for Newlines Institute, did virtually nothing about the sexual abuse by our “allies” on bases.
These incidents were widespread. One former Marine lance corporal recalled to The New York Times the day he entered a room on a base and saw three or four men lying on the floor with children between them. “I’m not a hundred percent sure what was happening under the sheet, but I have a pretty good idea of what was going on,” the Marine said.
In theory, America’s Leahy Law should have prevented American taxpayer dollars from subsidizing this, as it prohibits the government from funding foreign forces that violate human rights with impunity. But the Defense Department found a loophole that allowed it to quietly bypass those laws and to deliberately support groups it knew were engaged in the most depraved acts of sexual cruelty. The Pentagon actually opposed efforts to close the loophole, insisting it was necessary in order to protect American troops.
Did that policy of looking the other way protect Lance Corporal Buckley? His father thinks it may have killed him. The teen who murdered Buckley was suspected of being the plaything of an Afghan police chief named Sarwar Jan. He liked to keep an entourage of young boys around, the kind who fit the chai boy profile. Buckley said a group of young males moved into the barracks with Jan, one floor below the Marines. According to the The Washington Post, Khudairaham was working as Jan’s unpaid, underage personal assistant at the time of the attack. Buckley’s father suspected Khudairaham’s probable sexual abuse motivated the killings. “As far as the young boys are concerned, the Marines are allowing it to happen and so they’re guilty by association,” he said. “They don’t know our Marines are sick to their stomachs.”
Jan came with other problems. He reportedly had connections to terrorists. But the Afghan government didn’t care, and the U.S. government was more interested in punishing Americans who did care. When Maj. Jason Brezler sent an email containing classified information to Marine officers warning them about Jan two weeks before the attack, the military relieved him of his command and moved to discharge him. Brezler successfully sued the Corps, alleging its actions were retaliatory, and overturned their attempt to boot him out.
Others didn’t fare so well, including Army Special Forces Captain Dan Quinn. In 2011, Quinn, like Mullah Omar before him, confronted an Afghan police commander for his sexual and physical abuse of a boy, who was kept chained to a bed as a sex slave. Quinn slammed the man against a wall and the Army relieved him of his command as a result of the incident.
The stories of Buckley and Quinn have been making the rounds again since the Taliban swept their way to power. Observers wonder why these warlords faced relatively little resistance. After all, Kabul University had recently become the first in Afghanistan to offer a master’s degree in women’s and gender studies. Why did Afghans more or less ignore President Ashraf Ghani’s call for a “national uprising” against the Taliban? Why didn’t they fight harder for gender studies, feminism, and a World Banker-cum-president supported by the U.S. government, which ignored the rape of little Afghan boys?
Prey thinks the “rampant nature of bacha bazi in some regions undermined the legitimacy of the Afghan government in the eyes of Afghan civilians,” undermining Washington’s reputation. Gender studies, too, proved unpopular. “According to an USAID observer,” The Spectator reported, “the gender ideology included in American aid routinely caused rebellions out in the provinces, directly causing the instability America was supposedly fighting.”
The foreign policy establishment’s obsession with women’s rights in Afghanistan effectively rendered boys who fell victim to sexual abuse invisible and reinforced a culture in which men neglect women for the prepubescent objects of their desire. And that was not entirely a matter of stupidity; the Central Intelligence Agency deliberately used feminism “for the targeted manipulation of public opinion” in Western countries to weaken public resistance against the Afghanistan occupation. Its agents also bribed Afghan leaders with Viagra when the federal government knew exactly what horrors those men were inflicting on young boys. “Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people,” one agency operative told NBC News, “whether it’s building a school or handing out Viagra.” Pity the boys in those schools, then, whose suffering was insufficiently brutal for U.S. experts and perhaps incompatible with the zeitgeist of managerial feminism in the West.
Afghanistan was a deserved loss and humiliation for the U.S. government and its apologists—but not for the American people, whom the government views as alien as Afghans. The anger at how the Biden Administration conducted the withdrawal redirects resentment that should go entirely toward the war’s enablers: politicians, the foreign policy establishment, the Pentagon, the intelligence community, and the media that continually beats the war drum.
Americans should be angry that so much blood and treasure was unceasingly spilled over lies, that their own government terrorized American troops who rightly protected women and children—the same way it terrorized Afghans. And, finally, for making a quagmire of depravity and corruption in Afghanistan and calling it peace.
above: dancing bacha (child) and the men admiring him, drawing by Sedoff from a painting by Vereshchagin from Journey through Central Asia, 1867-1868, by Vasily Vereshchagin (DEA / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty Images)