Taliban recruiting Afghan children for suicide bombings
Stars and Stripes June 27, 2007
GHAZNI, Afghanistan — The boy looked to be no more than 6 years old, a U.S. officer said.
As the tiny Afghan wandered onto the district governor’s compound, he grew more scared and confused. He’d been given special instructions on what to do once he arrived, but now he couldn’t remember a thing.
The boy walked up to a guard and explained his problem.
“I forgot what to do,” the boy said.
Puzzled, the guard asked the child what on earth he was talking about.
The boy lifted his shirt and revealed a packed explosives belt.
“I forgot what I was supposed to do with this,” the boy said.
As U.S. and NATO forces struggle to stamp out a rekindled Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan’s southern and eastern provinces, officers and cultural advisers say enemy fighters are upping the ante by employing children and teens in a wave of deadly suicide bombings.
By targeting children in impoverished villages, Taliban fighters and their cohorts have used promises of jobs, money, education and simply food to lure young boys to neighboring Pakistan for indoctrination and training as insurgent suicide bombers, the U.S. military said.
While training camps in the ungoverned border regions of Pakistan have long served as the breeding ground for midlevel Taliban fighters, the use of young Afghan villagers as suicide bombers is a recent chilling development, authorities say.
In some instances — such as the failed attempt two months ago to use a boy in a suicide attack on a district governor’s compound in Ghazni province — insurgents simply befriend a susceptible boy and pressure him to conduct the attack.
In the Ghazni episode, the boy bomber was fatherless and his mother was unable to support his family, according to U.S. officials who said they were briefed on the incident by Afghan government and security officials.
“That’s how horrible these guys are,” said Capt. Matt Hagerman, a spokesman for the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, who described the Ghazni incident after being briefed about it. “They took a six-year-old and put a suicide belt on him. I mean, how low can you get?”
In a country plagued by grinding poverty, money is as much a Taliban weapon as are anti-tank mines, Kalashnikov rifles and intimidation campaigns.
In a series of interviews conducted by U.S. cultural advisers, villagers in the troubled Andar district of Ghazni province have said that Taliban fighters are targeting children between the ages of 8 and 12 and luring them to madrassas, or fundamentalist Islamic religious schools, in Pakistan.
“Once they get to Pakistan they’re brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers,” a U.S. intelligence officer said.
In small villages in the Andar district, a village the size of 300 people can lose between 5 and 10 young boys a year, according to officers in Task Force Fury.
While adult Afghans are more likely to see through the Taliban’s religious and ideological appeals, children are much more easily influenced and fooled, commanders say.
“These kids don’t have any concept of death; they don’t understand what they’re being asked to do,” said Capt. Aaron White, comander of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.