As if U.S. troops and diplomats didn't have enough to worry about in trying to understand Afghan culture, a new report suggests an entire region in the country is coping with a sexual identity crisis.
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An unclassified study from a military research unit in southern Afghanistan details how homosexual behavior is unusually common among men in the large ethnic group known as Pashtuns -- though they seem to be in complete denial about it.
The study, obtained by Fox News, found that Pashtun men commonly have sex with other men, admire other men physically, have sexual relationships with boys and shun women both socially and sexually -- yet they completely reject the label of "homosexual." The research was conducted as part of a longstanding effort to better understand Afghan culture and improve Western interaction with the local people.
The research unit, which was attached to a Marine battalion in southern Afghanistan, acknowledged that the behavior of some Afghan men has left Western forces "frequently confused."
The report details the bizarre interactions a U.S. Army medic and her colleagues had with Afghan men in the southern province of Kandahar.
In one instance, a group of local male interpreters had contracted gonorrhea anally but refused to believe they could have contracted it sexually -- "because they were not homosexuals."
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Apparently, according to the report, Pashtun men interpret the Islamic prohibition on homosexuality to mean they cannot "love" another man -- but that doesn't mean they can't use men for "sexual gratification."
The group of interpreters who had contracted gonorrhea joked in the camp that they actually got the disease by "mixing green and black tea." But since they refused to heed the medics' warnings, many of them re-contracted the disease after receiving treatment.
The U.S. army medic also told members of the research unit that she and her colleagues had to explain to a local man how to get his wife pregnant.
The report said: "When it was explained to him what was necessary, he reacted with disgust and asked, 'How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean, when one could be with a man, who is clean? Surely this must be wrong.'"
The Pashtun populations are concentrated in the southern and eastern parts of the country. The Human Terrain Team that conducted the research is part of a military effort to learn more about local populations.
The report also detailed a disturbing practice in which older "men of status" keep young boys on hand for sexual relationships. One of the country's favorite sayings, the report said, is "women are for children, boys are for pleasure."
The report concluded that the widespread homosexual behavior stems from several factors, including the "severe segregation" of women in the society and the "prohibitive" cost of marriage.
Though U.S. troops are commonly taught in training for Afghanistan that the "effeminate characteristics" of Pashtun men are "normal" and not an indicator of homosexuality, the report said U.S. forces should not "dismiss" the unique version of homosexuality that is actually practiced in the region "out of desire to avoid western discomfort."
Otherwise, the report said, Westerners could "risk failing to comprehend an essential social force underlying Pashtun culture."