Inquiry into 'sexual assaults' by US troops

Donald Rumsfeld, the United States Defence Secretary, has ordered an investigation into reports of sexual assaults among American troops stationed in Iraq and Kuwait, the Pentagon said yesterday.

Mr Rumsfeld directed the Pentagon's under secretary for personnel and readiness, David Chu, to review military procedures for medical care for sexual assault victims and of the availability of ways for victims to report assaults, particularly in a combat area. According to reports, male soldiers are accused of assaulting their female counterparts.

"I am concerned about recent reports regarding allegations of sexual assaults on service members deployed to Iraq and Kuwait," Mr Rumsfeld wrote to Mr Chu.

A defence official said that the memo came in response to media reports about sexual assaults in the region. A story in The Denver Post quoted officials with the Miles Foundation, a Connecticut-based organisation that helps victims of sexual or family violence who are connected to the military.

About 37 women have told the foundation that they were assaulted by fellow military personnel while in Iraq or Kuwait during the past year, said Christine Hansen, its executive director. Of those, several said they did not receive thorough medical care, access to chaplains and lawyers or information on their rights, she said, adding that 11 of the women reported being assaulted. The defence official said the army had recorded 80 cases of sexual misconduct during the year within the region managed by US Central Command, which includes Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. The Air Force recorded seven cases.

Mr Chu has 90 days to report findings and recommendations.

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