A joint operation between the United States and Somali National security forces has rescued 30 youngsters from an Al-Shabaab indoctrination centre. During the rescue mission, five terrorists were killed while six others sustained injuries. The children, majority under 18 years were found in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, where the Al-Qaeda linked Shabaab insurgents were radicalizing them.
According to a statement by the US Africa Command, the US personnel were in an advisory capacity and did not fire their weapons during the operation. “We support the Federal Government of Somalia and UNICEF efforts to reunite these children with their families,” read the statement released to media on Wednesday, though the incident happened on January 18. Early this year, Human Rights Watch cautioned that aggressive campaigns to recruit children had begun in mid-2017, with the jihadists taking reprisals against communities who refuse to cooperate.
According to HRW, hundreds of children have fled their homes to avoid this fate, often alone. “Al-Shabaab’s ruthless recruitment campaign is taking rural children from their parents so they can serve this militant armed group,” said Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch on January 15. The areas affected were largely in the Southern Bay region, a district still under the control of the Shabaab. According to HRW, Al-Shabaab has opened large Islamic religious schools since 2015 in areas under their control, bringing in younger children and pressuring teachers to teach the Shabaab curriculum in schools and avoid “foreign teachings”.
According to locals interviewed by HRW, Shabaab militants ordered them to hand over dozens of children between the ages of nine and 15. “They said we needed to support their fight. They spoke to us in a very threatening manner. They also said they wanted the keys to our boreholes. They kept us for three days. We said we needed to consult with our community. They gave us 10 days,” one resident told HRW. In Berdale district – also in the Bay region – Shabaab has abducted elders who refuse to hand over children in at least four villages, said the statement.