Child sol­diers end up on front line of Saudis’ war

The Beaufort Gazette (Sunday) - - News - BY DAVID D. KIRK­PATRICK

The civil war in Dar­fur robbed Hager Shomo Ahmed of al­most any hope. Raiders had stolen his fam­ily’s cat­tle, and a dozen years of blood­shed had left his par­ents des­ti­tute.

Then, around the end of 2016, Saudi Ara­bia of­fered a life­line: The king­dom would pay as much as $10,000 if Hager joined its forces fight­ing 1,200 miles away in Ye­men.

Hager was 14 at the time, and his mother was ap­palled. He had sur­vived one hor­rific civil war – how could his par­ents toss him into an­other? But the fam­ily over­ruled her.

“Fam­i­lies know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back money,” Hager said in an in­ter­view last week in the cap­i­tal, Khar­toum, a few days af­ter his 16th birth­day.

The United Na­tions has called the war in Ye­men the world’s worst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. An in­ter­mit­tent block­ade by the Saudis and their part­ners in the United Arab Emi­rates has pushed as many as 12 mil­lion peo­ple to the brink of star­va­tion, killing some 85,000 chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to aid groups.

Led by Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, the Saudis say they are bat­tling to res­cue Ye­men from a hos­tile fac­tion backed by Iran. But to do it, the Saudis have used their vast oil wealth to out­source the war, mainly by hir­ing what Su­danese sol­diers say are tens of thou­sands of des­per­ate sur­vivors of the con­flict in Dar­fur to fight, many of them chil­dren.

At any time for nearly four years as many as 14,000 Su­danese mili­ti­a­men have been fight­ing in Ye­men in tan­dem with the lo­cal mili­tia aligned with the Saudis, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral Su­danese fighters who have re­turned and Su­danese law­mak­ers who are at­tempt­ing to track it. Hun­dreds, at least, have died there.

Al­most all the Su­danese fighters ap­pear to come from the bat­tle-scarred and im­pov­er­ished re­gion of Dar­fur, where some 300,000 peo­ple were killed and 1.2 mil­lion dis­placed dur­ing a dozen years of con­flict over di­min­ish­ing arable land and other scarce re­sources.

Most be­long to para­mil­i­tary Rapid Sup­port Forces, a tribal mili­tia pre­vi­ously known as the Jan­jaweed. They were blamed for the sys­tem­atic rape of women and girls, in­dis­crim­i­nate killing and other war crimes dur­ing Dar­fur’s con­flict, and vet­er­ans in­volved in those hor­rors are now lead­ing their de­ploy­ment to Ye- men – al­beit in a more for­mal and struc­tured cam­paign.

Some fam­i­lies are so ea­ger for the money that they bribe mili­tia of­fi­cers to let their sons go fight. Many are ages 14 to 17. In in­ter­views, five fighters who have re­turned from Ye­men and an­other about to de­part said that chil­dren made up at least 20 per­cent of their units. Two said chil­dren were more than 40 per­cent.

To keep a safe dis­tance from the bat­tle lines, their Saudi or Emi­rati over­seers com­manded the Su­danese fighters al­most ex­clu­sively by re­mote con­trol, di­rect­ing them to at­tack or re­treat through ra­dio head­sets and GPS sys­tems pro­vided to the Su­danese of­fi­cers in charge of each unit, the fighters all said.

“The Saudis told us what to do through the tele­phones and de­vices,” said Mo­hamed Suleiman al-Fadil, a 28-year-old mem­ber of the Bani Hus­sein tribe who re­turned from Ye­men at the end of last year. “They never fought with us.”


Su­danese mili­ti­a­men along the coastal high­way lead­ing to the con­tested port of Hodeida, Ye­men, on Oct. 2. The Saudis have used their oil wealth to out­source the war in Ye­men, pri­mar­ily by hir­ing des­per­ate sur­vivors of Su­dan’s con­flict, many of them chil­dren.

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