“Children with potential hostile intent”

The phrase “military aged male” is a favorite of the Obama administration, since it’s the one trotted out by the drone program to justify “signature strikes” on people who cannot positively be identified as terrorists or insurgents.

But how young can a “military aged male” be? If recent comments by US military officers in Afghanistan are any guide, as young as ten years old.

In comments which legal experts and campaigners described as “deeply troubling”, army Lt Col Marion Carrington told the Marine Corp Times that children, as well as “military-age males”, had been identified as a potential threat because some were being used by the Taliban to assist in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

“It kind of opens our aperture,” said Carrington, whose unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was assisting the Afghan police. “In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.”

In the article, headlined “Some Afghan kids aren’t bystanders”, Carrington referred to a case this year in which the Afghan national police in Kandahar province said they found children helping insurgents by carrying soda bottles full of potassium chlorate.

The piece also quoted an unnamed marine corps official who questioned the “innocence” of Afghan children, particularly three who were killed in a US rocket strike in October. Last month, the New York Times quoted local officials who said Borjan, 12, Sardar Wali, 10, and Khan Bibi, eight, from Helmand’s Nawa district had been killed while gathering dung for fuel.

However, the US official claimed that, before they called for the strike on suspected insurgents planting improvised explosive devices, marines had seen the children digging a hole in a dirt road and that “the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission”.

Pardiss Kebriaei, senior attorney of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a specialist in targeted killings, said she was concerned over what seemed to be an attempt to justify the killing of children.

Kebriaei said: “This is one official quoted. I don’t know if that standard is what they are using but the standard itself is troubling.”

… “Under the rules of law you can only target civilians if they are directly participating in hostilities. So, here, this standard of presuming any military aged males in the vicinity of a war zone are militants, already goes beyond what the law allows.

“When you get to the suggestion that children with potentially hostile intent may be perceived to be legitimate targets is deeply troubling and unlawful.”

Americans overwhelmingly voted for two candidates who would perpetuate murderous war crimes committed in their names, because they thought their preferred candidate would ensure they’d have a few dollars more in their own pockets. Nice.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • found children helping insurgents by carrying soda bottles full of potassium chlorate.

    The accusation is that the children were knowingly and deliberately carried an “explosive precursor” as opposed to bleach, and thus have intent “mens rea”.

    Potassium chlorate is also used to kill bacteria in water, a disinfectant, or bleach as it is much more easily carried than liquid bleach.


    children digging a hole in a dirt road…the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission

    Children digging a hole or messing with a hole, as children do, that others later enlarged? Digging a hole requires a level of upper body strength that few, if any children have, possibly a small percentage of women, which why digging holes is generally a young adult male activity.

    A corollary is “I possess a gun, therefore I must intend to murder.”

  • Although I agree that targeting chldren is not desirable (I am also hearing here that it is unlawful, although I myself do not know exactly what US law and/or military regs say about this).

    Playing devil’s advocate here for a moment, I see anothwr aspect to this problem, and it is exactly the problem we have seen most often in central Africa: the forcing of children to become soldiers, or to aid and assist in warfare. The Taliban could be threatening the families of these children unless they co-operate. They could be threatening the children themselves. They could be recruiting war orphans.

    In other words, although it is wrong to target them, the case that they are knowingly engaging in warfare against US soldiers can be realistically made.

    The problem then becomes one of the Taliban “recruiting” (read: “forcing at gunpoint”) children to carry out activities that they know they themselves are likely to be shot down doing, hoping that the US policy of not targeting children will allow them to successfully install the IEDs that will kill US soldiers.

    Not too much different from Al-Qaeda using women in burqas to carry bombs, hoping they can get into places that the men cannot because the western forces have a moral issue with conducting a body search on a woman.

    It becomes a thornier problem at this point. No one wants to target children. We also don’t want to give the Taliban any advantages that would increase the number of US casualties.

  • The joys of fighting and insurgency. I have no doubt that some children (and i’d imagine that a 14 year old Afghan has had to a bit more growing up by that age than the average 14 year old American) are recruited by the insurgency. It might have something to do with anger about family members being killed, or if it was their father, the extreme difficulty with with their mother would have to make a life for the family. And that leaves the US with the choice to either kill kids or potentially let kids kill US soldiers. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

    On the other hand, there’s probably a lot of “well that kid’s digging a hole near the road and since after a decade we still haven’t started training all our troops to speak the language of the country where we’re trying to win the hearts, so we can’t communicate with the kid. I wonder if he’s being hostile to the occupation?” Open up the aperture of the disposition matrix. Because when you’ve only got a hammer, everything must be a nail.

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