July 26th, 2005

Child’s play

Just a short while after the Afghan war ended, the articles began. They screamed “The Taliban are back;” “The Taliban are taking over;” The Taliban are currently in control of most of the country,” (or they soon will be).

So, what’s the truth? Are the Taliban like the phoenix, rising renewed in vigor from the ashes of their own seeming destruction? Or are the Taliban like the dying snake sinking its fangs into its enemies during its own death throes, as in Austin Bay’s metaphor about the Iraqi “insurgency”?

This recent article about the Taliban is a good indication that they are suffering from the sort of desperation that indicates the latter rather than the former:

Fierce fighting in recent months has devastated the ranks of the Taliban, prompting the rebels to recruit children and force some families to provide a son to fight with them, a US commander said yesterday.

The fighting has fractured the Taliban’s command structure, preventing the militants from regrouping, even though there has been an upsurge in violence, Major General Jason Kamiya, the US military operational commander in Afghanistan, said in an interview.

Despite the setback — more than 500 rebels have been killed since March — the militants are likely to step up attacks in the run-up to the Sept. 18 legislative elections, he said. ”The Taliban and Al Qaeda feel that this is their final chance to impede Afghanistan’s progress to . . . becoming a nation,” Kamiya said. ”They will challenge us all the way through Sept. 18.”

He said the rebels were desperately trying to recruit fighters to replace those killed recently, and have forced families in some areas ”to give up one son to fight.”

”They have been hit so hard, they now have to recruit more fighters. They are recruiting younger and younger fighters: 14, 15, and 16 years old,” Kamiya said. ”The enemy is having a hard time keeping its recruit rates up.”

The fact that the source of the article is the AP makes the information therein even more impressive, since the AP has hardly been known for being overly optimistic about either the Afghan or the Iraqi wars. If the AP is reporting this much, my guess is that the actual situation for the Taliban might even be worse than indicated.

Traditionally, the use of younger and younger soldiers is a sign of desperation in a military movement, the end of the road. This website of WWII Nazi posters features the following recruiting poster from a time very late in the war when the Germans were using boys hardly removed from adolescence:


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Sad, and strange.

This post began with an article about the Taliban. But, as often happens, my research on one topic led to some unexpected findings on a related, but broader subject. It turns out that, far from being exceptional, the pernicious practice of using child soldiers appears to be increasing, not just in Afghanistan but in many third world countries, especially in Africa.

I have only scratched the surface of these websites, so I can’t vouch for their content, but take a look at this one, for example. And even though I have had some disagreements with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch lately, this work reminds me of the reasons I originally joined Amnesty many long years ago (see also this, and this).

There used to be a lower limit to the age of soldiers. Strength was required–originally for hand-to-hand fighting, and later for carrying and operating the heavy weapons. The balooning use of child soldiers lately has been made possible in part because of advancements in armaments, making weapons easier to operate and carry (one example of the law of unexpected consequences, I suppose). There is also evidence that their youth makes them more likely, not less, to commit atrocities. Chilling, and sobering.

10 Responses to “Child’s play”

  1. neo-neocon Says:

    Well, there are “boys” and then there are actual boys.

    Troops have always tended, in the main, to be young men, many of them in their late teens. But if you follow these links, you’ll find that in many of these countries the armed teenagers are far younger, and in some cases are even pre-pubescent.

  2. Paul Says:

    Regardless of their age these terrorists have to be killed. Sad to say ,but it is a matter of survial.

  3. Goesh Says:

    The expression “our boys” was used all the time in WW2 and Korea and to a certain extent in Viet Nam and other conflicts. I suppose it is easier for politicians to start wars knowing that young men tend to be generally foolish and will march off to war at the drop of a hat. They are much more readily inspired by notions of God, country, mom and apple pie, or allah,imam, Dad and whatever their national dish may be on their side. I think all soliders return knowing they have been duped to a certain extent, because all these notions fall to the side in the first fire fight. I believe our troops know that the jihadis are not going to stop for any reason and are fully committed to dying. It’s a hell of a thing our boys have to do, but there is no choice in the matter.

  4. karrde Says:

    I am reminde of the plans the Japanese had in 1944-5.

    For cultural reasons, the Japanese found surrendur unthinkable. One of their plans was to arm every boy in sight wih a bamboo spear, and have them charge the US Marines.

    A desperate measure.

    Wonder why Truman gave the OK for dropping the A-Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    More recently, certain Palestinian groups have used children as suicide bombers in Israel.

    Was that a sign of desperation? Arafat’s people had stopped bombing, then restarted. Then they moved to using younger people to carry the bombs–although I thought suicide bombing was typically done by late-teens.

    At any rate, roman’s story from Iran seems to be made of the same stuff: desperation on the part of military planners.

  5. roman Says:

    Howie, NASA ??, You space cadet. The topic is kids with guns.
    Seriously though, the practice of using young boys as cannon fodder is a loathsome practice and should be done away with once an for all.
    One episode I will never forget took place during the Iran/Iraq war not too long ago. The ayatohlas
    kept sending young “recruits” dressed in sandles, sacrificial looking leisure wear and red ribbons tied around their heads into the swamps seperating the two sides. These boys were sent running
    through the reeds with antique bolt-action rifles against Iraqi
    machine gun emplacements. Day after day this went on. The bodies kept dropping for years in a protracted stalemate.
    This is how Islamic “brothers” treated each other. Can we as infidels expect better?

  6. The Unkown Blogger Says:

    Wait a minute – the war in Afghanistan ended?

  7. Goesh Says:

    It does appear that the islamic fundamentalists cannot adjust to much of the modern world, and we all certainly can’t adjust to any sharia law and existance as it was in the 7th century, where they want to drag us back to. That won’t happen but I’m afraid there is a long struggle ahead.

  8. NeoDude Says:

    Well, at least the Taliban and the NAZIs hated liberals!

  9. hooey Says:

    After 2½ years, the National Aeronatics & Space Agency (NASA) has launcehd the space shuttle «Discovery» for another shuttle mission. Blastup was this smorning. Read more…

  10. Goesh Says:

    Yup, kids have been fighting in wars for all of human history. Many kids are bearing arms all over the world today. I have two ancestors that were militia men on the frontier at age 14 and 15, then at age 15 and 16, each participated in a battle against the British. The geneology research on these ancestors shows that the mother of John, then age 15, cried when he came home to report that he had signed up with the Colonial forces to engage the British. I suppose the threat of Indian raiders on the frontier was acceptable and most real and there was a necessity of her sons bearing arms, whereas the British were far off and no direct threat on the Virginia frontier. There were many 17 yr. olds in Viet Nam in 1965 and early into 1966, then it was decided that they were kids and had to wait a few months before going to Viet Nam. I suppose the jihadis view our Boy Scouts as youth indoctrination organizations. I suppose they would call it the American version of the nazi youth, infidels preparing to march off and kill the true believers, to rape and pillage and loot and pollute. Perhaps it should be us old bastards that are made to march off to war and kill and be killed, and anyone under the age of 40 be exempted.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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