U.S. Adds NATO Ally Turkey to List of Countries Recruiting Child Soldiers

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The U.S. State Department on Thursday added Turkey to a list of countries implicated in the recruitment of child soldiers, India’s WION news site reported on Friday.

“Reports from human rights groups and international bodies indicate the government provided operational, equipment, and financial support to a TSO [Turkey-Supported Opposition group] in Syria that recruited child soldiers,” the U.S. State Department wrote in a profile of Turkey included in its 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, published on July 1.

“An international organization reported in 2020 the recruitment and use of 820 children (765 boys and 55 girls) in the Syria conflict, including 191 cases attributed to TSOs,” the U.S. government stated in its Turkey profile.

The U.S. State Department specifically referred to at least one TSO in Syria known as the Sultan Murad division. Ankara is a major supporter of the Sultan Murad division, an armed militant group opposed to the Syrian government.

The U.S. State Department’s inclusion of Turkey in the latest issue of its annual Trafficking in Persons Report on Thursday means Turkey may be subject to certain restrictions the U.S. government places on countries named in the annual report. The punishments include limitations on “certain security assistance and commercial licensing of military equipment” a nation may receive from the U.S. government “absent a presidential waiver,” according to the U.S. State Department.

Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is an intergovernmental military alliance between 30 European and North American countries, including the U.S.

“Turkey is a key NATO Ally and critical regional partner, and the United States is committed to improving the relationship between our two countries,” the U.S. State Department wrote in an official statement regarding Washington’s bilateral relationship with Ankara in January. “It is in our interest to keep Turkey anchored to the Euro-Atlantic community.”

“Turkey is an important U.S. security partner,” the U.S. State Department added.

“With respect to Turkey in particular … this is the first time a NATO member has been listed in the child soldier prevention act list,” a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters in a press call on July 1 according to Reuters.

“Turkey has carried out three cross-border operations in Syria against the … Islamic State [of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS], as well as U.S.-backed Kurdish militia and has frequently used factions of armed Syrian fighters on top of its own forces,” the news agency recalled on Thursday.

Reuters noted:

Some of these groups have been accused by human rights groups and the United Nations of indiscriminately attacking civilians and carrying out kidnappings and lootings. The United Nations had asked Ankara to rein in these Syrian rebels while Turkey rejected the allegations, calling them “baseless.”

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