Taleban guns down 10-year-old war hero

Child soldier Wasil Ahmad being feted at a celebration held in his honour after he led a militia force against a Taleban siege. As a result of his bravery during the siege, pictures of him were circulated widely on social media.
Child soldier Wasil Ahmad being feted at a celebration held in his honour after he led a militia force against a Taleban siege. As a result of his bravery during the siege, pictures of him were circulated widely on social media.PHOTOS: NEW YORK TIMES, PAJHWOK AFGHAN NEWS
Child soldier Wasil Ahmad being feted at a celebration held in his honour after he led a militia force against a Taleban siege. As a result of his bravery during the siege, pictures of him (above) were circulated widely on social media.
Child soldier Wasil Ahmad being feted at a celebration held in his honour after he led a militia force against a Taleban siege. As a result of his bravery during the siege, pictures of him (above) were circulated widely on social media.PHOTOS: NEW YORK TIMES, PAJHWOK AFGHAN NEWS

KABUL • Wasil Ahmad was declared a hero by the Afghan government for leading a militia force against a Taleban siege last year, and he was paraded in front of cameras in a borrowed police uniform that was too big for him.

This week, the Taleban triumphantly announced that they had assassinated him with two bullets to the head.

Wasil Ahmad was 10 years old.

He was gunned down on Monday in Tirin Kot city, the capital of southern Oruzgan province, just a few months after leaving the militia and enrolling in school as a fourth-grader (the equivalent of Primary 4 in Singapore).

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 Taleban insurgents.

Mr 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 Taleban, too, used child soldiers, he said, in recent battles in places like Kunduz and Badakhshan, north of the country.

NO REASON TO KILL

There was no threat from this child to the armed opposition. 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.

MR RAFIULLAH BAIDAR, of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, condemning Taleban's decision to kill Wasil.

BORN LEADER

He fought like a miracle. He was successfully leading my men on my behalf for 44 days until I recovered.

AFGHAN LOCAL POLICE MILITIA COMMANDER MULLAH ABDUL SAMAD, on how his nephew Wasil took command of his troops after he was wounded in battle.

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

"There was no threat from this child to the armed opposition," Mr 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, this violent life was chosen for Wasil even before he was born. His uncle, Mullah Abdul Samad, was a Taleban commander who decided four years ago to switch sides, along with 36 of his men, including Wasil's father, and support the government.

In return, the Afghan government appointed Mr Samad the commander of about 70 Afghan Local Police militiamen in Khas Oruzgan district. Mr Samad's forces became the government's front against the Taleban. He lost 18 men in the fighting - Wasil's father was one of them.

Last year, as the Taleban intensified its offensive across the country and the security in Oruzgan deteriorated, the noose around Mr Samad's fighters tightened when the Taleban besieged them for more than two months, Mr Samad said in an interview.

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

"He fought like a miracle," Mr Samad said, adding that Wasil even 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 Mr Samad and his forces to a hero's welcome in Tirin Kot.

In a celebration hosted by Mr Rahimullah Khan, the deputy police chief of Oruzgan, Wasil was the centre of attention, wearing a baggy police uniform with garlands of plastic flowers around his neck. Mr 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 home tutor his uncle hired for him, and was growing proficient in English over the last 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 Mr Ezatullah Khan, a former neighbour of the family.

Mr Mohammad Karim Khadimzai, the provincial council chief of Oruzgan, said he disagreed with the police's promotion of Wasil and his actions, even though the boy had bravely stepped forward at a desperate time during the Taleban assault.

"A programme was held at the police headquarters, where his bravery was talked about by officials," Mr Khadimzai said. "I was against this move and told the officials that instead of encouraging him to engage in military activities that will ruin his future, let him go to school. He is too young to be handed a gun."

On Monday, as Wasil walked out of the house to buy vegetables, an armed man on a motorcycle shot him twice in the head and escaped, his uncle said.

The boy was buried in Tirin Kot, in the Shahidano graveyard. He had two younger brothers.

The Taleban claimed responsibility on their website, saying they had killed a stooge militiaman.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2016, with the headline 'Taleban guns down 10-year-old war hero'. Print Edition | Subscribe