Wasil Ahmad: the 10-year-old 'hero' murdered by the Taliban

By  The Guardian

Wasil Ahmad was on his way to primary school when the Taliban gunned him down this week, taking revenge for the 10-year-old’s role fighting in a government militia in southern Afghanistan.

His brief career and brutal death have highlighted both the country’s widespread problems with child soldiers and the escalating cruelty of its civil war.

“One side made him famous and the other side killed him. Both sides ignored the law and acted illegally,” Rafiullah Baidar, a spokesman for the Afghan independent human rights commission, told the Associated Press.

“Possibly he took up arms to take revenge for his father’s death, but it was illegal for the police to declare him a hero and reveal his identity, especially to the insurgents.”

Human rights groups have been warning for years that child recruitment is rife in Afghanistan, particularly among police and militia forces, although signing up fighters still in primary school is unusual.

Ahmad’s chubby face, without a wisp of adolescent hair, had made him a kind of grim celebrity in Afghanistan after he reportedly helped fighters in southern Uruzgan province break a Taliban siege last summer.

Social media pictures showed him with an oversized helmet dwarfing his head, his hands firmly clasped around an automatic rifle that also seemed too large against his small frame.

In another he posed in a baggy police uniform, as officials draped garish multi-colored plastic garlands of celebration around his shoulders, and in a third he is weighed down by an adult-size ammunition belt.

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Ahmad took up arms with his uncle Mullah Abdul Samad, a former insurgent who defected to the government, after the Taliban killed his father and then wounded Samad.

The veteran commander claimed that his nephew had led dozens of grown men for over a month while the older man recovered from his injuries. He had even fired rockets from a roof at the insurgents surrounding them in Khas Uruzgan district.

“He fought like a miracle,” Samad told the New York Times. When the siege was broken the group were airlifted to the provincial capital Tirin Kot, where Ahmad was paraded in front of the media.

That outing was meant to be the end of his military career, at least for a few years. He went back to school, and lived with relatives, although they still praised him for his initiative and he dreamed of going back into battle.

“A program was held at the police headquarters, where his bravery and courage was talked about by officials,” Mohammad Karim Khadimzai, the provincial police chief told the paper.

“I was against this move and told the officials that instead of encouraging him to military activities that will ruin his future, let him go to school. He is too young to hand him a gun.”

He was on his way to school when the Taliban killed him with two bullets to the head, claiming the killing on their website, the Associated Press reported.

President Ashraf Ghani has given strict orders against using children in the military, but there has been “slow and tardy progress” on enforcing them, charity Child Soldiers International says.

“There is a lack of political will to address this issue … there is a specific commitment by the government to clean it up but sufficient measures are not being taken,” Charu Lata Hogg, the group’s policy and advocacy director, said.

Recruitment is driven by a mix of patriotism, poverty, honor and filial duty, a report presented to the UN security council last summer said. In some provinces in the south and east as many as one in 10 law enforcement officials are suspected to be underage, and in more lawless areas the number may be even higher.

The Taliban also use child fighters as spies and suicide bombers, including for an attack on a packed performance at the French Cultural Institute in Kabul just over a year ago that killed at least two people.

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