- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Security forces rescued several children forcibly recruited by the Taliban, purportedly to be used as fighters or suicide bombers, and there could be hundreds more of them, officials said Tuesday.

The claim came as a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region, causing an explosion that killed two police officers and wounded five other security officials, authorities said.

Pakistani troops are engaged in offensives against the Taliban in various areas along the lawless border with Afghanistan, fighting militants often drawn from among the local communities.

Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, who heads a special support group tasked with handling the return of people displaced by three months of fighting in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas, said he had met with nine boys rescued from the Taliban.

“They have been brainwashed and trained as suicide bombers, but the nine who I met seemed willing to get back to normal life,” he told Pakistani state-run television.

Gen. Ahmed’s deputy, Lt. Col. Waseem Shahid, later clarified that it had not been determined whether all the boys were being trained as suicide bombers.

“What we are saying is that they are Taliban recruits. They are trained. They could have been used for any purpose,” Col. Shahid told the Associated Press.

Gen. Ahmed said on state-run TV that the children had told him that there were many more, possibly hundreds, like them.

“It seems that there are some 300 to 400 such children who the Taliban had taken forcibly or who they were training,” Gen. Ahmed said.

The Washington Times, citing Pentagon and Pakistani officials, reported July 2 that the top Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, has been buying children as young as 7 to serve as suicide bombers, and that the going price for child bombers was between $7,000 and $14,000.

Maj. Nasir Ali, spokesman for the forces in Swat, said most of the several children who had been rescued were taken from a Taliban training camp in Swat after a firefight, although some had turned themselves in later. He did not say when the rescue occurred.

Gen. Ahmed said the boys had sometimes been lured by offers of food, but that they had been underfed and some had fallen ill.

Militant spokesmen could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the allegations.

On Sunday, authorities in Swat’s main town of Mingora presented several teenagers claimed to have been forcibly recruited by the Taliban. Seven boys, their faces covered to prevent them from being recognized, were shown to reporters.

One, 16-year-old Shaukat Ali, said the militants abducted him while he was playing cricket. He said they told him they wanted him to be “a warrior” and offered to pay his family for his services.

Bashir Ahmad Bilour, senior minister of North West Frontier Province, where Swat is located, said that dozens of children had been rescued by security forces and ranged in age from 6 to 15.

He said they were being trained as suicide bombers.

“They are prepared mentally. They say that Islam is everything for them. They say they are doing it for Islam. They say they have to carry suicide attacks for the sake of Islam,” Mr. Bilour told private Geo TV. “They are brainwashed to such an extreme that they are ready to kill their parents, who they call infidels.”

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