All sides in Syria’s civil war have used some child soldiers but the two most hardline Islamists factions have taken the practice to a new level.
The al-Nusra Front is not quite as theatrical but in sheer willingness to add children to its ranks it easily rivals ISIS itself. Atlantic Council:
In April of last year, the Nusra Front—now called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham—launched a campaign they called, “Mobilize,” in northern Syria, intended to recruit children.
Although it was intended to last no more than a month, the campaign is still ongoing and has now attracted 5,000 recruits to combat Shia militias.
Actually this seems to be an error since the “Children Not Soldiers” counter-recruitment campaign this May spoke of 500 documented cases of teenage and child soldiers added to JaN ranks. In fact the Atlantic Council piece seems to say the same thing later on:
By last June, as many as 500 children between the ages of thirteen and seventeen had joined the campaign.
This included 350 children from border camp—particularly Camp Atma—and 150 from northern Syria—particularly Idlib and the surrounded countryside—according to campaign sources.
The children included Syrians from within the country as well as those living in Turkey.
So now that we’ve cleared that up, here are the facts: The pro-rebel Atantic Council reports that al-Nusra is maintaining a recruitment campaign specifically targetted at adolescents and having considerable success so far.
The success of JaN is based around a few key factors. To begin with not all of these are added voluntarily. Parents are not asked for approval and kids are sometimes taken at gunpoint:
One former recruit, Majed, describes in the HRW report how he was recruited at the age of fifteen—members of the Nusra Front would go to civilians’ houses to take their children and then place them in an institute, of sorts, where they learned how to read the Quran and use light weaponry.
More importanty JaN is flush with cash (printing millions of leaflets) and is able to offer financial incentives. Basically families will give al-Nusra their children so they can help feed the rest of the family:
Mr Hussein Abu Al-Yusur said “some people agree to recruit their children because they need money, especially that each child gets a $100 salary every month after being recruited. So poverty plays a big role in the success of child recruitment process.
Atlantic Council however fails to inform us a large chunk of money al-Nusra is able to hand out originates in the Gulf. Incidentally Atlantic Council is backed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates.
Anyhow, these also are the shock troops of Washington’s war on Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian state. — Adolescents from starving farmilies bought by a death cult using Gulf cash.
To advance their goals al-Qaeda is willing to see boys between 13 and 17 kill and be killed in a lethal war — but so is the US which is happy to see JaN provide teeth for the anti-Assad rebellion.