Just a short while after the Afghan war ended, the articles began. They screamed "The Taliban are back;" "The Taliban are taking over;" The Taliban are currently in control of most of the country," (or they soon will be).
So, what's the truth? Are the Taliban like the phoenix, rising renewed in vigor from the ashes of their own seeming destruction? Or are the Taliban like the dying snake sinking its fangs into its enemies during its own death throes, as in Austin Bay's metaphor about the Iraqi "insurgency"?
This recent article about the Taliban is a good indication that they are suffering from the sort of desperation that indicates the latter rather than the former:
Fierce fighting in recent months has devastated the ranks of the Taliban, prompting the rebels to recruit children and force some families to provide a son to fight with them, a US commander said yesterday.
The fighting has fractured the Taliban's command structure, preventing the militants from regrouping, even though there has been an upsurge in violence, Major General Jason Kamiya, the US military operational commander in Afghanistan, said in an interview.
Despite the setback -- more than 500 rebels have been killed since March -- the militants are likely to step up attacks in the run-up to the Sept. 18 legislative elections, he said. ''The Taliban and Al Qaeda feel that this is their final chance to impede Afghanistan's progress to . . . becoming a nation," Kamiya said. ''They will challenge us all the way through Sept. 18."
He said the rebels were desperately trying to recruit fighters to replace those killed recently, and have forced families in some areas ''to give up one son to fight."
''They have been hit so hard, they now have to recruit more fighters. They are recruiting younger and younger fighters: 14, 15, and 16 years old," Kamiya said. ''The enemy is having a hard time keeping its recruit rates up."
The fact that the source of the article is the AP makes the information therein even more impressive, since the AP has hardly been known for being overly optimistic about either the Afghan or the Iraqi wars. If the AP is reporting this much, my guess is that the actual situation for the Taliban might even be worse than indicated.
Traditionally, the use of younger and younger soldiers is a sign of desperation in a military movement, the end of the road. This website of WWII Nazi posters features the following recruiting poster from a time very late in the war when the Germans were using boys hardly removed from adolescence:
Sad, and strange.
This post began with an article about the Taliban. But, as often happens, my research on one topic led to some unexpected findings on a related, but broader subject. It turns out that, far from being exceptional, the pernicious practice of using child soldiers appears to be increasing, not just in Afghanistan but in many third world countries, especially in Africa.
I have only scratched the surface of these websites, so I can't vouch for their content, but take a look at this one, for example. And even though I have had some disagreements with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch lately, this work reminds me of the reasons I originally joined Amnesty many long years ago (see also this, and this).
There used to be a lower limit to the age of soldiers. Strength was required--originally for hand-to-hand fighting, and later for carrying and operating the heavy weapons. The balooning use of child soldiers lately has been made possible in part because of advancements in armaments, making weapons easier to operate and carry (one example of the law of unexpected consequences, I suppose). There is also evidence that their youth makes them more likely, not less, to commit atrocities. Chilling, and sobering.