Taliban make children plant IEDs to thwart Army snipers
By Christopher Leake
Last updated at 1:57 AM on 07th February 2010
Boys as young as 12 are being used by the Taliban to plant bombs designed to kill and maim British troops in Afghanistan.
Army commanders say insurgents are forcing children to lay improvised explosive devices (IEDs) because they know they will not be shot by British snipers.
Senior military sources say the children’s parents and families are likely to have been threatened by the Taliban to allow their sons to carry out the dangerous task.
Details of the new tactic were revealed last night in Sangin, Helmand Province, where soldiers of the 3 Rifles Battle Group have been fighting the Taliban for the past four months.
Troops say they have seen insurgents sending out boys to lay IEDs, sometimes only 150 yards from British positions.
A senior Army source said: ‘The Taliban know that if they get caught in the sights of our snipers, they don’t last long, so they have resorted to hiding behind compound walls and directing children to plant bombs for them.
‘Lots of home-made IEDs detonate before they have even been laid, but the Taliban don’t seem to care whether a child gets killed or maimed. Some boys are as young as 12.’
In neighbouring Musa Qaleh district, where Prince Harry’s Household Cavalry Battle Group operates, child victims of IEDs are common. Many come from poor farming families. They unwittingly pick up detonators to play with them, only to have hands blown off.
Surgeon Lieutenant Colonel Jedge Lewin, 41, the Household Cavalry Battle Group’s doctor, said: ‘In the past few days alone, we have had five cases of children who have been exposed to blasts causing severe damage to, or loss of, hands and fingers.
‘Children can pick up devices when they are playing or handle detonators when forced to plant the bombs. This is a cowardly Taliban tactic and when children are suffering the consequences, it’s particularly sickening.’
The use of children, however, is fuelling defections from the Taliban. Captain Rolly Spiller, of the Household Cavalry, who was injured on a previous tour by an IED, said: ‘We’ve had former Taliban fighters come to us and say,
“I have children now. I don’t want them to be blown up.”’
A British hearts and minds campaign in Sangin and Musa Qaleh is also said to be weakening the Taliban’s grip.
Capt Spiller added: ‘Local farmers are realising they have no real quarrel with us. Many of them would rather go back to farming and selling their goods in the local bazaar.
‘The Musa Qaleh bazaar is now thriving, with a livestock market, attracting about 3,000 people every week. The Sangin bazaar, once a ghost town, has more than 200 stalls open daily.’
Every day, men and women from the Royal Logistics Corps and the Royal Engineers find and defuse IEDs, often using their fingertips just inches from the devices.
‘They are real heroes of this campaign,’ said Major Rob Philipson-Stow, second-in-command of the Household Cavalry Battle Group. ‘The way they approach their jobs is phenomenal.’