Child Soldiers: A Growing Threat to U.S. Troops?

By Erwin, Sandra I. | National Defense, December 2002 | Go to article overview
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Child Soldiers: A Growing Threat to U.S. Troops?

Erwin, Sandra I., National Defense

In more than 30 was being fought around the world today, at least 30 000 soldiers are under the age of 18. The budding presence of so-called "child soldiers should be a concern for U.SJ forces as they prepare for future conflicts, said experts.

Child soldiers can be just as effective and dangerous as adult fighters and, in some cases, they can pose an even greater threat than seasoned combatants, because they have grown up fighting wars and are more battle hardened.

These findings were the subject of a June 2002 seminar sponsored by the Marine Corps' in-house think tank, called the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities. The CET was created two years ago to help Marine Corps leaders prepare for future conflicts in new war-fighting environments.

Experts who participated in the seminar titled "Child Soldiers: Implications for U.S. Forces," conchided that the United States needs to prepare its military services to tackle issues such as the rules of engagement when troops encounter child fighters and to explore new tactics for combating them.

For U.S. military leaders, "the child soldier issue clearly is an emerging threat," said Col. Frank A. Panter Jr., commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, which oversees CETO.

"There is little question that U.S. servicemen will encounter child soldiers sometime in the future," said Panter. "Indeed, this topic is of increasing importance not only for policy makers but most importantly for U.S. service members."

The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan offers a compelling case in point In January 2002, U.S. Special Forces Sgt Nathan Chapman is reported to have been killed by a 14-year-old Afghan is reported Although this was not confirmed by the Defense Department, the "incident was noteworthy," said the "incident was nar report, published last month.

In September 2000, British special forces rescued a six-man patrol of the Royal Irish Regiment, who had been captured in Sierra Leone by a rogue militia made up almost entirely of children, according to Maj Jim Gray, a Royal Marine staff officer who participated in the CETO seminar.

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