Afghanistan's president has ordered a "thorough investigation" into institutionalised sexual abuse of children by police, after it was found that the Taliban are using child sex slaves to launch deadly insider attacks.
There has been international condemnation of paedophilic "bacha bazi" -- literally "boy play" -- which AFP found has been exploited by the Taliban to mount a series of Trojan Horse attacks over two years that have killed hundreds of policemen in the remote southern province of Uruzgan.
"The president has ordered a thorough investigation (in Uruzgan) and immediate action based on findings of the investigation," the presidential palace said of Ashraf Ghani in a statement.
"Anyone, regardless of rank within the forces, found guilty will be prosecuted and punished in accordance and in full compliance of the Afghan laws and our international obligations," the English language statement said.
The ancient custom of bacha bazi, one of the country's worst human rights violations, sees young boys -- sometimes dressed as women -- recruited to police outposts for sexual companionship and to bear arms.
It is deeply entrenched in Uruzgan, where police commanders, judges, government officials and survivors of such attacks told AFP that the Taliban are recruiting bacha bazi victims to attack their abusers.
The claims -- strongly denied by the Taliban -- expose child abuse by both parties in Afghanistan's worsening conflict.
The presidential statement said there was "no place" in the Afghan establishment for abusers, adding it will do "whatever it takes" to punish them.
The announcement follows a flurry of international reaction to AFP's report.
"We strongly condemn any abuses of the horrific nature described in the article," the US embassy in Kabul said.
"We urge the Afghan government... To protect and support victims and their families, while also strongly encouraging justice and accountability under Afghan law for offenders."
In a letter last week to US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Congressman Duncan Hunter demanded a proactive American role to end bacha bazi in Afghan forces.
"I remain concerned... That the Taliban is increasing its use of children to access security positions and mount insider attacks against... Afghan police," Hunter said in the letter seen by AFP.
"It is my belief that we can begin taking immediate steps to stop child rape from occurring in the presence of US forces and reduce any risk of coinciding insider attacks. This includes imposing a zero-tolerance policy.