Islamic State Mobilizing Children at Unprecedented Rate
Sun, February 28, 2016
Fairgrounds depicted in an Islamic State propaganda video. (Photo: Video screenshot)
The Islamic State is mobilizing children and youth at an increasing and unprecedented rate, far exceeding current estimates. This is the conclusion of a new, comprehensive study conducted by the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The study analyzed the presence and depictions of children in the Islamic State’s martyrdom propaganda between 2015 and 2016. It outlines a numbers of trends found in the group’s propaganda and discusses the implications of the Islamic State’s long-term vision for its children and youth.
“The data unambiguously suggests that the Islamic State’s mobilization of children and youth for military purposes is accelerating," the study states, noting that, “On a month-by-month basis, the rate of young people dying in suicide operations rose, from six in January 2015 to 11 in January 2016.”
But equally striking is the fact children and youth in the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) are fighting alongside, rather than in lieu of, adults. Whereas, in other conflicts, children are normally used to replace adult fighters as a last resort, as a way to “rapidly replace battlefield losses,” or in a special operation where the child maybe more effective, ISIS is now using children in much the same ways as adults.
“When considered in the context of the child soldiers in other conflicts, this is somewhat counterintuitive. Historically, when militant organizations enlisted children, they did so surreptitiously,” the study notes. “The Islamic State bucks this trend brazenly by boasting about its young recruits, something that is indicative of the fact that it is using them differently than the child soldier norm.”
The deaths were celebrated in media photos corresponding with Islamic State “Breaking News” updates on social media, with posting occurring within minutes or hours of an operation.
Of the 89 cases studies of children dying while fighting for the Islamic State:
- 39 percent died upon detonating a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) against their target
- 33 percent were killed on the battlefield as foot soldiers
- 6 percent died while working as propagandists embedded within units or brigades
- 4 percent committed suicide in mass casualty attacks against civilians
- 18 percent died during marauding operations in which a group of mostly adult fighters infiltrates and attacks an enemy position using light automatic weapons before killing themselves by detonating suicide belts.
Photos of the child martyrs appear in Islamic State propaganda, with close to a third of the child matyrs “standing in orchards and meadows, scenery presumably chosen to echo the paradise to which they thought they were destined…In one case, a pre-adolescent child smiled widely at the camera, wearing his baseball cap back-to-front, sitting atop what appears to be a fairground ride.” Interestingly, although there was an Islamic State flag in close to one-fifth of the photos, none of them featured an image of the Quran.
The following is an Islamic State propaganda video. At the 8:14 minute mark, the scene depicts the Islamic State entertaining children at a fairground: