US Admits Allies in Syria Using Child Soldiers

By Will Porter –

The State Department has acknowledged that America’s top partner in Syria, the Kurdish-led “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), is still using underage fighters after more than 10 years of similar allegations. The Pentagon continues to work closely with the group regardless, as US troops illegally occupy large swaths of territory in northeastern Syria.

Published Tuesday, the department’s 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report highlighted a number of armed factions employing child soldiers in Syria, among them notorious terrorist outfits like ISIS and al-Qaeda as well as more US-friendly groups.

“The recruitment or use of children in combat and support roles in Syria remains common, and since the beginning of 2018 international observers reported continued incidents of recruitment and use by armed groups,” the report said.

Those include several Kurdish militias, such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an affiliated all-female brigade known as the YPJ, as well as the US-backed and armed SDF. The latter org is an umbrella group containing several others, including the YPG, and has long served as Washington’s main proxy force in Syria.

Another related Kurdish faction, the Revolutionary Youth Movement, was said to have tricked minors into joining up using “fraudulent announcements for educational courses in northeast Syria.”

Although the State Department said the SDF was implementing a 2019 UN-mandated “action plan” to end the practice, it noted reports that “SDF-affiliated armed groups recruited and used children in 2022 and 2023.”

Allegations of child trafficking and military recruitment have dogged the YPG for more than a decade, with rights groups reporting cases as far back as 2013. While YPG leadership claims to have ordered an end to the practice that year, the problem has only worsened since.

In 2020, the United Nations found the YPG, “under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces,” was the top recruiter of child fighters in Syria with 283 documented cases the prior year – even beating out the local al-Qaeda affiliate. While the UN later acknowledged SDF efforts to crack down on the use of underage fighters, it still recorded dozens of cases in April 2021.

Despite the official admission in the new State Department review, the US military continues a close partnership with the SDF and, by extension, the YPG. On Tuesday, the Pentagon deployed 40 vehicles and other hardware to reinforce a base in northwestern Syria, where US troops are embedded with Kurdish fighters. That move followed a similar deployment to Hasakah reported last April.

American forces have illegally occupied Syria for years despite repeated objections from the government in Damascus. While Washington insists the presence is necessary to ensure the lasting defeat of the Islamic State, US troops continue to hold significant energy resources in the oil-rich northeast, effectively controlling one-third of the country with the help of its Kurdish allies.

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