As the tides of war turn against them in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as government and ISAF forces drive deep into territory they once controlled, the Taliban are increasingly targeting children as both victims and weapons of war.
The Taliban, never great proponents of education, have a long history of attacking schools and students, particularly girls. But in recent months, especially since last February's ISAF push to drive them from their strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the Taliban have increasingly begun to use children as human shields and weapons.
At least 50 battlefield reports filed by U.S. Marine officers since March 2010 list cases of children used in combat by the Taliban. One report describes an incident in the city of Marjah last year: the Taliban "placed five children shoulder to shoulder on [the roadway] to cover their movements. Once the children were placed, the Taliban element mounted their motorcycles and escaped."
Other reports describe children as young as three being sent into fire zones to drag wounded Taliban fighters to safety, to plant bombs and retrieve weapons.
But the Taliban's horrific exploitation of children is not limited to combat zones. According to the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., in order to catch patrolling army and policemen off-guard, the Taliban are fitting children with explosive vests and sending them up to uniformed men standing at checkpoints or sitting in police vehicles.
In an incident that took place in late June, several men approached an eight-year-old girl and told her to take a bag to a nearby police contingent. As she approached a police vehicle, militants standing at a safe distance remotely detonated the bomb in the bag. The policemen survived. The girl did not.
The Taliban fighters are minimizing risk to themselves by directly exposing children to danger. They turn the most vulnerable into weapons and send them into lethal situations, knowing that they have no chance of survival.
These are acts of desperation on the part of the Taliban. The United States stands with the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan who have been victimized by the Taliban.