Human Rights Investigations (HRI) analysis shows that opposition forces in Syria, including those supported by Western powers and Qatar are openly using young children in combat roles, including as mortar crews.
Here is the video which sparked the latest investigation:
The video shows Alwiya Ahfad al-Rasoul (Brigades of the Descendants of the Prophet) aka as “Alwiya Ahfaad ar-Rasool.” in Mount Zāwiya using children using children as mortar men. They say it in the video, they use their logo and the video is linked to by the Ahfad al-Rasoul web site.
The use of children to fire mortars is a war crime. It poses great danger to the children involved as mortar crews are supposed to be trained in their safe use and there is a good chance they will be killed in retaliatory artillery strikes. Mortars can be unsafe even in trained hands, as was highlighted in a recent incident in which seven US marines were reportedly killed in Nevada whilst training with mortars and there are documented incidents of Syrian rebel mortars misfiring and ‘cooking off’, where the mortar explodes in the tube, often killing all those around.
This kind of incident is, of course, especially likely where the operators are untrained and the equipment poorly maintained. The use of children as mortar men is not only thoroughly immoral, it is also extremely cowardly.
Alwiya Ahfad al-Rasoul is a conglomeration of brigades including the Al-Haqq battalion, Shuhada al-Jolan Battalion, Suqour al-Jolan Battalion and the Suqour Jabal al-Zawiya battalion. By August 2013 the group had co-opted some 50 groups from across Syria, however it is strongest in Idlib Governate. A number of sources indicate it receives funding from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
According to the official website of the National Syrian Coalition, the leader of Ahfad al-Rasoul, Ziad Haj Obaid, is on the Supreme Military Council (SMC). He is also sits on the SMC Armament Commission and is therefore directly involved in the distribution of Western and Arab arms and military equipment. The SMC’s primary backers have reportedly been the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
The intention of the President Obama to provide “assistance” to the body of which Alwiya Ahfad al-Rasoul’s leader is a prominent member, was confirmed in an On-the-Record Conference Call by Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes on Syria in June this year when he said:
Since April, as we’ve reviewed this evidence, we have increased our support and provision of assistance to the opposition. That includes increased support to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, but it also includes the provision of assistance to the Supreme Military Council in Syria. And so we are focused right now on strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC and helping to coordinate the provision of the assistance to the SMC by the United States and other partners and allies.
Just last week, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has so far been thwarted in his attempts to bomb Damascus or openly supply arms to the armed opposition, said:
I will shortly lay before Parliament a proposal to increase our non-lethal support to the Supreme Military Council of General Idris. This life-saving equipment will take the form of communications, medical and logistics equipment. There can be no peaceful settlement to the conflict in Syria without a strong role for the legitimate, moderate opposition.
HRI has been documenting the widespread use of children as combatants in the Syrian conflict and supplying information to the United Nations. Instances we have highlighted include the use of a child to behead a prisoner. In July, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, initiated contacts with Free Syrian Army commanders operating in Rif Damascus and Homs to raise the issue of the recruitment and use of children. However, recently the number of instances of use of children in combat roles shown on videos uploaded to opposition channels has increased significantly. The video of children using mortars also adds credibility to a recent Syrian TV interview of a 13-year old sniper, also allegedly recruited by Alwiya Ahfad al-Rasoul.
Please contact your representatives (as many people did to head off direct Western military strikes on Syria) to lobby against the use of sectarian groups to destroy countries for geopolitical reasons, and in particular the provision of further funds, arms, communications equipment and political support to the Syrian Opposition Supreme Military Council.