Winning the Hearts and Minds of Children

Children have tragically been caught in the crosshairs in the fight for the soul of Afghanistan. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State — warring streams of violent Islamists – have involved children in disproportionate numbers.

The Taliban closed down close to 100 schools in Badakhshan province and recruited the boys as child soldiers in their quest to retake Afghanistan, local media reported last month.

"The future of more than 10,000 students remains uncertain. Taliban force them to fight and the majority of students are sent to Baharak," said Dawlat Mohmmad, Wardoj district governor.

The Taliban has long-employed children to carry out their murderous deeds, from blowing up IED’s to suicide bombings. Children make great spies for the Taliban, gleaning information about the location of Afghan and foreign troops without arousing suspicion.

Afghan children are cynically recruited from poor parents with promises of free food, lodging and education at the Taliban’s madrasas (religious schools). There, they are brainwashed to give their lives fighting against the “infidel,” the “invading foreign forces” that they are told are raping their mothers and sisters. They are brainwashed to believe even their fellow Afghans that the children will take down with them in suicide operations  “deserve to die,” since they are “American collaborators.”

Promises of a better "tomorrow" are made to the children. "They offer them visions of paradise, where rivers of milk and honey flowed, in exchange for giving up his life by becoming a suicide bomber," said an official in an interview with the BBC.

The Taliban now has competition. The Islamic State (ISIS) has challenged their rule in at least seven provinces in Afghanistan. In these areas, the Islamic State has set up schools, not just to teach the Quran as is traditional in the madrasas and send them off to suicide missions, but to change the hearts and minds of the next generation and turn them into fighters.

In a rare look deep in one of these provinces, a team of Afghan reporters was given access to one such school, where all children are educated from the age of three.

"Islamic law tells us to give children all essential skills. We teach them, and we give them military training so they are prepared in mind and body so they are set on the right path and each generation will learn and teach in turn," said their teacher.

Notably missing in the entire vicinity were any parents.

Whereas the Taliban aims are simply to take control of Afghanistan, the Islamic State plans to expand its “caliphate” to encompass the historical area of Khorasan, a region that covers Afghanistan as well as north central and eastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

To fulfill that dream, they most certainly must win over the next generation.

The following video is a rare look inside an Islamic State school in Afghanistan:

The full report about the Islamic State can be viewed below:

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