254 YPG-affiliated groups fighters graduation ceremony in training camp in November 2016
In Syria, majority of armed groups from different sides use underage kids as fighters or for military purpose like manufacturing and moving weapons and ammunition, SDF-dominated YPG considered to be leading group to lure and recruit child soldiers in its ranks.
NSO reporter were able in the past weeks to observe and archive cases of PYD-affiliated armed groups recruiting children in its held areas, however the reporters were able to cover some area not all due to dangerous security situations which could lead them to be detained by PYD gunmen.
Swaydikyie camp; every child who entered is lost
NSO reporter in Hasakah observed cases of child soldiers in YPG ranks by enlisting them in YPG training camps for kids in Hasakah countryside, Swaydikyie camp-in Hasakah countryside 7km south east Malkyie- considered to be the most important, managed by non-Syrian PKK commanders called (Heval Adib,Heval Serhad,Heval Amin) and “Heval” is a Kurdish word means comrade.
The camp host kids between 14-16 years old in groups, each groups consist of 50 child trained for 15 days on using light weapons and throwing grenades, the camp enlist children by their parents wish or the children wish which is valued by the camp commanders more than parents wish, many cases of children enlisted though their parents disapproval and after the parents went to the camp to see their kids they were denied.
Bashar Ahmed a 14 years old kid went to Swaydikyie camp by himself in November 2016 to train on weapons and join YPG, however a month later he decided to leave the camp and took a vacation for 2days and he stayed at his house and didn’t return but camp commanders threatens his parents to send him back to the camp saying he will be sent back to his home soon, so the parents sent their kid to the camp hoping he will return in few days but the kid was moved to unknown place according to what the camp commanders told the parents “you have to forget this kid, he is now the son of the cause not yours anymore”.
15 years old “S F” is another kid who joined the camp before January 2017, his father told NSO he tried a lot to convince his son to leave the camp until he was threatened by camp commander of arresting him on “betrayal” charges, according to the father he saw 50 kids male and female training on weapons while he visited his son
In Manbij the beginning was with ISIS
ISIS persevered to lure and recruit underage kids to fight among its ranks during his control on Manbij in Aleppo eastern countryside since early 2014 until mid-2016, for this purpose ISIS set up several camps among those camps there is “behavioral applications school” camp which contained dozens of kids and teenagers to be trained and sent to fight.
In addition to that, ISIS set up “Qara Quzak mountain camp” where ISIS brainwashed kids and taught them extremist ideology since early age and convinced them that following the caliphate is following God’s will to be easily lured among disapproval of families of the kids.
NSO reporter in Manbij was able to document cases of ISIS child soldiers who joined ISIS at that time, among them Hasan al-Battoushi 13 years old was killed in Manbij battle 4 months after being recruited, Hasan al-Aouni 17 years old who was killed in clashes near al-Sekhne town 2 months after joining ISIS, Mohamad al-Mawas 14 years old,Mosuab al-Ali 15 years old killed in Manbij battle 2 months after joining ISIS, and Mahmod al-Zeghri 17 years old who was killed in Ayn al-Arab”Kobane” battle.
Following the announcement of YPG forming Manbij Military Council in April 2016 and joining “Syrian Democratic Forces SDF” the council started receiving applications for joining its ranks, but after it captured Manbij in mid-2016 the Council started forcing men between 18-30 years old to join but recruited child soldiers in unannounced way by luring the families or the kids who wants to join its ranks.
PYD militias following ISIS steps in recruiting underage fighters
YPG-affiliated Manbij Military Council after controlling the city started recruiting young men in Manbij countryside especially locals villagers from Teshreen Dam to Manbij city which is more than 30 villages, and according to YPG source more than 500 young men from this area were forcibly recruited until the end of 2016, among them there were underage kids and this recruiting campaigned forced hundreds of civilians to flee toward FSA held areas.
But the recruiting campaign stopped in early 2017 after tribal figures delegation met YPG commanders and requested to stop it, YPG justified it by saying it was unintentionally mistake by “Shams al-Shamal” battalion which doesn’t represent YPG and promised to punish who were responsible for this but it didn’t happen and according to locals it was just a way of YPG to decrease the tension with locals.
YPG-affiliated Manbij Military Council consist of 3500 fighters some are volunteers but others forcibly recruited, all from Manbij city and its countryside but the decision of Manbij Military Council is in YPG hands, each member salary is between 60-100 thousands SYP according to the area the fighter sent to.
No way to back down or withdraw after joining the fight
Ibrahim al-Ghanaymi and his brother less than 15 years old from al-Qeshle village next to Teshreen Dam fled Manbij military council recruitment with 13 of his relatives told NSO: I fled my village in November 2016 after the conscription campaign launched by Manbij Military Council before it controlled the city, I paid 200$ to a smugglers who took me to Kherbet al-Jawz village in Idlin then to Turkey where I stayed there for six months before going back to my village after the conscription campaign stopped.
Al-Ghanymi continued: two of my relatives(Hussain and Mohammad al-Ghanaymi) who were forcibly recruited by Manbij Military council were killed and buried in the village, but Manbij Military Council didn’t give their families anything except promises although their terrible financial situation especially Hussain who was less than 17 years old.
Some families were brave enough to refuse sending their kids to clashes points and asked Manbij Military Council to stop conscription campaigns but the Council refused and always lectured PYD ideology using same terms such as “sacrifice, pride of the martyr, fighting extremism” and sometimes Council arrested who protested against conscription and accused them of collaborating with ISIS like what happened with Jamal al-Khaled.
Jamal refused to recruit his 16 years old son ”Sayyah” by Manbij Military council so he was arrested and sent to Ayn al-Arab”Kobane” prison for “collaborating with ISIS” in September 2016 then he was released 6 months later in February 2017 and before he left he was threatened that he will be rearrested if he kept asking about his son or not sending him to fight even thought his young age.
Jamal told NSO reporter: when I was in the prison I didn’t feel bad for being there, I am worried for my son whose fate is unknown after Tabqa battle, I talked to his commander after I was released and begged him to send my son away from battle lines and he promised me to do it, but the next day my son disappeared and I didn’t hear anything from him since a month and I don’t know his whereabouts.
Aqeel Mohamad (16yo) story is not different from “Sayyah”, in early 2017 Aqeel joined Asayish which works inside cities as a police according to Self-Autonomous and this is what the commander promised the father, but this changed when the kid was sent to front lines with FSa groups in Manbij countryside and when the father asked the commanders they said his son requested to be sent there and refused to send his son back from front lines.
Anti-PYD activists and opponents never stopped asking the PYD to stop recruiting and using children in war but the party never listened, and keep imposing the “struggle” ideology in schools and “Children Komins” to prepare them to carry arms in young age and sent to fight.
International reports condemn SDF for recruiting children
Human Rights Watch organization published report on 13 June demanded the International Coalition to tell SDF and other armed militias that recruiting children is illegal even for non-military purpose, and remind it of punishing the commanders who accept having child soldiers in their ranks, and encouraging all groups to provide ex-child soldiers with everything to help them recover physically and psychologically, and demanded US-led coalition to stop publicly supporting any armed group using child soldiers.
The organization pointed out that in a research in north Syria in February 2014 HRW concluded that with all Asayish and YPG promises in 2013 to not use children for military purpose the problem continued with both groups although the internal law of both groups ban accepting children under 18 years old.