A report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO estimated that up to 300 Syrian child soldiers have died fighting for the Islamic State since the beginning of the operation to liberate Mosul, Iraq, from the control of the terrorist group.
The Kurdish outlet Rudaw quotes the estimate from the UK-based rights group, noting that confirming these deaths is extremely difficult. The Islamic State routinely abducts young boys to enlist in its “Caliphate Cub” training program, where children learn how to shoot, torture, and behead infidels. The Rudaw report notes that 40 Islamic State jihadis’ bodies have been confirmed to have returned to Raqqa, Syria, from Mosul. Raqqa is considered the capital of the terrorist group’s “caliphate,” while Mosul is its regional capital in Iraq. Mosul is the second-largest city in Iraq after Baghdad and has been under Islamic State control for two years.
The Syrian Observatory estimates that at least 480 Islamic State jihadists total have been killed since Baghdad announced the operation to retake Mosul two weeks ago. The Iraqi military is currently within Mosul city limits, while the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias are surrounding the city to prevent jihadists from fleeing.
The Caliphate Cubs program is almost as old as the Islamic State declaration of a “caliphate” itself. In 2014, ISIS began releasing its first propaganda videos featuring the children, many as young as 10, seen learning how to punch, kick, shoot, and use a variety of weapons. In some videos, younger children are depicted beheading dolls, while the older children behead “infidels,” receiving candy as their reward for a murder well done.
In 2015, the Islamic State announced the opening of the Farouk Institute for Cubs in Syria, meant to indoctrinate children with the Quran as well as teach them how to kill.
Soon after the videos of the child soldiers began growing in popularity among Islamic State supporters, reports of ISIS jihadists abducting children by the hundreds to brainwash them and teach them how to kill grew common.
“Caliphate Cubs” are prominent in the most recent Islamic State video publication, released last week. The release followed reports that the Islamic State is increasingly abducting civilians in and around Mosul and keeping them in locations far from the fighting to use as human shields at a later date when U.S. aircraft will be more likely to engage in airstrikes to aid the coalition on the ground.
The Iraqi military has insisted that the fight to retake Mosul is going well. In an update on Iraqi television, General Talib Shegati said Monday, “The soldiers of the Counterterrorism Force are advancing very fast. I wouldn’t say a matter of days but a matter of hours before advancing and start cleansing the city of Mosul from terrorism.”
With the Mosul operation moving at a brisk pace, many have begun expressing concerns regarding the fate of the city once the operation is over. Both the Turkish and U.S. governments have expressed concern that Shiite militias operating in the south and west of the city may overrun Sunni neighborhoods and commit acts of ethnic cleansing. Christian groups, meanwhile, fearing they are ill-represented among the various factions fighting for Mosul, announced Tuesday that their independent militias have agreed to unite to protect the Nineveh Plain region and, ultimately, a liberated Mosul.
Before its capture, Mosul was one of Iraq’s major Christian population centers.