The Islamic State group, struggling to retain its fighters, has increasingly relied on an army of child soldiers, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Monday. The revelation comes as the extremist group, aka ISIS, has lost a grip on much of its territory amid an intense U.S.-led airstrike campaign.
“Originally, they would rely on children for intelligence streams, getting information ... and then using them to conduct suicide attacks, which they still do,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “Now we get more reports about them using children in actual engagements side by side with adult fighters.”
Kirby said the increasing prevalence of child soldiers on the battlefield indicates that ISIS is weakening amid a wave of defections, but he added that the U.S. continues to consider the threat posed by ISIS “very serious.” Also Monday, the House of Representatives unanimously voted to label ISIS atrocities against minorities — particularly Christians and Yazidis — as “genocide.” The State Department has avoided using the label.
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The use of child soldiers by ISIS is well-documented, and they have often appeared in propaganda videos. The children are many times glorified online with titles like the “cubs of the Islamic State.” In several videos, children have executed unarmed men.
The United Nations has in the past confirmed that children as young as 12 or 13 have undergone military training in ISIS-held Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Some of the children who managed to escape told families they were made to “form the front lines,” shielding older fighters.
In addition to turning young boys into soldiers, ISIS has conscripted teenage girls to be sex slaves or wives for fighters, various escapees have reported. Children are also assigned to cook meals and deliver messages.
ISIS has gradually lost hold of some of its territory in recent months, but it continues to control large swaths of land in both Syria and Iraq. A U.S.-led airstrike campaign has targeted the extremist group's financial revenue, reportedly pushing ISIS to slash fighter salaries and impose new taxes in areas under its control.