Reports have surfaced in the last few days indicating that U.S. foreign aid to Somalia may be used to arm child soldiers, some as young as 12 years old. Pre-teens with Kalashnikov’s have been a pervasive element of African conflicts for years, as rebel forces are known to pluck kids off soccer fields and throw them into combat. Now, the U.S.-backed Somali government is reportedly going tot-for-tot with Islamitist forces, arming children with guns bought by American tax dollars.
U.S. involvement in Somalia has been well-documented for decades. Most people are familiar with the Clinton-era Black Hawk Down incident and some may be aware of the Bush administrations support for an Ethiopian-backed overthrow of the Somali government dating back to Christmas Day in 2006. What most people don’t know is that Mogadishu could be the most dangerous City in the world with open air markets for mortars, rockets, machine guns and other light weapons. Think of the anything-goes attitude of a vibrant Shakedown Street, but on steroids and with a violent, wartime atmosphere. Now imagine the American government supporting these markets by bankrolling soldiers too young to shave.
It’s unclear how the situation will play out. The UN Security Council denounced the use of child soldiers in Somalia, and and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has demanded that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton investigate. The State Department says it is pressing the Somali government not to use child soldiers, and that the American government took “appropriate steps” to verify that the Somali soldiers it was helping pay were 18 or older.