Taliban gun down 10-year-old militia hero in Afghanistan

KABUL: The Afghan government declared Wasil Ahmad a hero for leading a militia's defense against a Taliban siege last year, parading him in front of cameras in a borrowed police uniform too big for him. On Monday, the Taliban triumphantly announced that they had assassinated him with two bullets to the head.

Wasil Ahmad was 10 years old.

He was gunned down in Tirin Kot city, the capital of southern Oruzgan province, just a few months after leaving militia life and enrolling in school as a fourth-grader.

Wasil's story is a painful example of how child combatants continue to be a part of life in Afghanistan, both in the ranks of pro-government forces and among the Taliban insurgents.

Rafiullah Baidar, a spokesman for the Afghan independent human rights commission, said that despite strict orders from President Ashraf Ghani last year against using children in the military, his commission continues to receive reports of child soldiers in the Afghan forces, particularly in the Afghan Local Police militias. The Taliban, he said, used child soldiers, too, in recent fighting in places like Kunduz and Badakhshan, in the northern part of the country.

Baidar said the provincial government had broken the law by parading Wasil in a police uniform after the Taliban siege was lifted. But he also condemned the Taliban's killing of Wasil because the boy had moved to a civilian life.

"There was no threat from this child to the armed opposition," Baidar said. "If they had targeted him in a military base, then they could have raised the question of what was a child doing in a military base. But he was targeted in front of his home."

In many ways, a life of the gun was chosen for Wasil before he was born.

His uncle, Mullah Abdul Samad, was a Taliban commander who decided four years ago to switch sides to support the government along with 36 of his men, including Wasil's father. In return, the Afghan government appointed Samad commander of about 70 Afghan Local Police militiamen in Khas Oruzgan district.

Samad's forces became the government's front against the Taliban. He lost 18 men in the fighting, including Wasil's father. Last summer, as the Taliban intensified its offensives across the country and the security in Oruzgan deteriorated, the noose around Samad's fighters tightened, the Taliban besieging them for more than two months, Samad said in an interview.

About a month into the siege, a Taliban attack wounded Samad and 10 of his men. Wasil took command of the defense, Samad said.

"He fought like a miracle," Samad said, adding that Wasil had fired rockets from a roof. "He was successfully leading my men on my behalf for 44 days until I recovered."

The siege was finally broken in August, and Afghan and NATO forces airlifted Samad and his forces to a hero's welcome in Tirin Kot.

In a celebration hosted by Rahimullah Khan, the deputy police chief of Oruzgan, Wasil was the center of attention, wearing a baggy police uniform with garlands of plastic flowers around his neck. Khan patted him on the back as they posed for pictures. Then the deputy chief went around with wads of cash, handing it to the rescued men. Pictures of Wasil — helmet on, assault rifle in hand — circulated widely on social media.

But that was supposed to be the end of it. Wasil's family enrolled him in a school near their new rented home in Tirin Kot. Though he was not a good student, he excelled with a tutor his uncle hired for him at home, growing proficient in English over five months, relatives said. Still, they said, he always spoke of military matters and wanted to play with weapons and drive police vehicles as a hobby.

"He was not really interested in education because he was highly encouraged by police officials and awarded medals for his bravery," said Ezatullah Khan, a former neighbor of the family's.

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