WASHINGTON : Court-martial proceedings has begun for a US general accused of sexual assault and other crimes in an extraordinary case that could shape a debate about the military’s justice system.

In a military court in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Brigadier General Jeffery Sinclair faces numerous charges including adultery, disobeying orders.

The 51-year-old general, a former commander of the famed 82nd Airborne division, has admitted to an adulterous affair and offered to retire from the US Army but is fighting the other charges. Sinclair, who commanded troops in southern Afghanistan, is only the third general to face a court-martial in nearly 50 years.

The trial will be closely watched at a time when the military faces a crisis over sexual assault, with some lawmakers demanding dramatic reforms that would strip commanders of legal authority over the cases.

Military chiefs oppose the proposed reforms to the justice system but have introduced numerous initiatives in a bid to counter the problem, including measures designed to track down perpetrators and encourage victims to come forward.

Sinclair’s accuser is an army captain who is 17 years younger and who served with him in Afghanistan.

Prosecutors allege Sinclair exploited his rank to coerce the captain and threatened to use his authority “to damage or ruin her military career if she ended their sexual relationship,” according to the charge sheet.

The outcome of the trial remains uncertain after the chief prosecutor in the case abruptly resigned last month, after reportedly confiding to defense lawyers that he had serious reservations about the case.

The trial also coincides with a spate of cases of misconduct and other alleged misbehavior by top officers, including an admiral overseeing nuclear forces who was sacked over accusations he used counterfeit chips at a casino in Iowa.

Sinclair’s trial is scheduled to run through March 28.