WARNING: This story contains details and images that some readers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.
Keeping with its pattern of documenting its own war crimes on video and using that footage as propaganda, ISIS has posted a video online depicting the training of child soldiers.
Almost three dozen boys, all of whom would only be in elementary or middle school if they lived in Canada, are depicted learning martial arts, how to disarm or capture an enemy fighter, and how to endure brute force.
The video is called The Blood of Jihad Part 2. The first part appeared online in October and depicted the training and graduation of adult recruits.
Descriptions of both videos indicate the training camps were somewhere in Iraq’s Ninawa province, bordering Syria, much of which ISIS has controlled for months and considers a part of its self-proclaimed caliphate.
The training was similar to what’s seen in this latest video, except all of these soldiers are much smaller and much more vulnerable.
“It does show the kind of audacity that they have,” said Dr. Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative at Halifax’s Dalhousie University. “And, it speaks to… [ISIS] being clear about this being a multi-generational war.”
Posted to YouTube (but later removed) and other sites on Monday, the training video is not nearly as “brutal” as other ISIS propaganda videos or even other examples of what child soldiers in other conflicts have had to go through, Whitman told Global News.
“If you look at [this video], there are some elements that are not all that different than us taking our kids to learn martial arts,” she said. “I could see kids looking at that and thinking that that’s pretty cool, that they look a bit like they’re making them into little ninjas.”
ISIS wants to appeal to young recruits and “prioritizes children as a vehicle for ensuring long-term loyalty, adherence to their ideology and a cadre of devoted fighters that will see violence as a way of life,” a United Nations panel investigating war crimes in the Syrian conflict concluded.
What’s not clear from this video is whether the children were recruited or kidnapped before being trained and indoctrinated.
Earlier this year in Syria, ISIS abducted more than 150 Kurdish boys, held them in a school in Aleppo province and showed them videos of beheadings and attacks, while subjecting them to daily instruction on militant ideology for five months, the U.N. and Kurdish officials said. The boys were later released.
In Raqqa province, an anti-ISIS activist collective has documented the presence of at least five known youth training camps, one specifically for children under 16 in the town of Tabqa.
The video released Monday clearly glorifies children becoming jihadis. But, Whitman explained we’re not likely seeing all the whole picture.
“I’m sure there are worse elements of their training than what they demonstrated on that video,” she said in a phone interview.
Viewers also don’t see the horrific acts child soldiers have to carry out once they finish training.
The UN panel reported “ISIS fighters under 18 years of age are said to have performed the role of executioner. A 16-year-old fighter reportedly cut the throats of two soldiers, captured from Tabqa airbase in late August 2014.”
“We still need to recognize that they are children, no matter how people are using them,” Whitman said. “Even when children become soldiers, we want you to recognize that they’re children first and a child soldier second.”
Although the government has only approved Canadian Forces taking part in airstrikes, and a small contingent of troops to train Kurdish fighters in Iraq, Whitman said she’s “sure we’re going to go beyond that” if Canada is committed to eliminating ISIS.
And if that means Canadian boots on the ground, she said soldiers need to be prepared to encounter children on the battlefield.
“[I]t’s going to have different implications, from a psychological perspective, on our troops,” she said. “If they’re not prepared for this, it’ll have an impact on them… and that has an impact, when they come home, on their own family.”
-With files from The Associated Press
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