Turkey-backed Syrian rebel groups recruiting child fighters - report

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel factions are recruiting child fighters and sending them to Libya and Azerbaijan to fight alongside forces allied with Turkey, pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya news agency reported on Tuesday, citing a former mercenary.

Ex-Syrian mercenary, who goes by the name Fajr Maaliki, told the agency that he was 13-years-old when he first joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the Turkey-backed umbrella organisation of rebel groups now known as the Syrian National Army (SNA).

“As Turkey started recruiting more men to fill these Syrian National Army (SNA) factions for their Afrin operation, they also began recruiting more children, too,” Maaliki said. “And that continues to this day. There are so many children among the SNA factions now. "

In 2018, Turkey launched an air and ground campaign into Afrin, a Kurdish-controlled enclave in northwestern Syria.

“The Turks told us the YPG (a predominantly Kurdish, U.S.-allied militia) and ISIS were working together to fight us from Afrin,’’ Maaliki said. “They said the YPG wanted to do what Israel has done; to create a state within Syria just for the Kurds, and that they would try to occupy Idlib, and the Aleppo countryside, all the way to Latakia.’’

"But when I was in Afrin after the invasion began, I saw how the SNA factions robbed the civilians, and kidnapped them, and raped women," Maaliki added. “I saw Turkey occupy Afrin. We were not fighting Assad in Afrin. The battle had nothing to do with our revolution against the Syrian regime. "

In March 2020, a report by human rights organization Syrians for Truth and Justice alleged that Turkey recruited child soldiers to send them to Libya.

“It should be clear that when Turkey sent SNA to Azerbaijan [to support Azerbaijani forces in their attack on Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2020], there were children among them, as well”, Maaliki said.

“The Syrian National Army are just mercenaries for Turkey. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sent us to Libya, to Azerbaijan. The young generation, those who were babies when the war started, are illiterate, uneducated, and naive. I think they will remain slaves to Turkey”, Maaliki said.