US slams Turkey over use of ‘child soldiers’ in Libya, Syria

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The United States on Thursday added Turkey to a list of countries that are implicated in the use of child soldiers over the past year, placing a NATO ally for the first time on such a list, in a move that is likely to further complicate the already fraught ties between Ankara and Washington.

The US State Department determined in its 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) that Turkey was providing “tangible support” to the Sultan Murad division in Syria, a faction of Syrian opposition that Ankara has long, supported and a group that Washington said recruited and used child soldiers.

There was no immediate reaction from Turkey on the move.

In a briefing call with reporters, a senior State Department official also made a reference to the use of child soldiers in Libya, saying Washington was hoping to work with Ankara on the issue to address it.

“With respect to Turkey in particular … this is the first time a NATO member has been listed in the child soldier prevention act list,” the State Department official said. “As a respected regional leader and member of NATO, Turkey has the opportunity to address this issue, the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Syria and Libya,” she said.

Several international reports have implicated Ankara in the recruitment and military mobilisation in foreign battlefields of underage mercenaries among pro-Turkish and militant militias in Syria.

Turkey, through proxies and its own armed forces, has also been involved in the Libyan conflict. Ankara’s support helped the Tripoli-based government reverse a 14-month assault from eastern forces backed by Egypt and Russia.

Thousands continue to be stationed in Libya with Turkish authorities refusing their withdrawal despite UN and US demands.

Their stay on Libyan soil aims to bolster the Islamist camp before the forthcoming general election scheduled for next December and risks undermining the whole political process.

Turkey has carried out three cross-border operations in Syria against the Islamic State (ISIS) extremist group, as well as US-backed Kurdish militia and has frequently used factions of armed Syrian fighters on top of its own forces.

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’.

Governments placed on this list are subject to restrictions, according to the State Department report, on certain security assistance and commercial licensing of military equipment, without a presidential waiver.

It was not immediately clear whether any restrictions would automatically apply to Turkey and the move raised questions whether it could derail Ankara’s ongoing negotiations with Washington on Turkey’s bid to run Afghanistan’s Kabul airport once the US completes the pull-out of its troops.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the two things will not likely be linked. “When it comes to trafficking in persons, I would not want to link the report today with the constructive discussions we’re engaging in with Turkey, in the context of Afghanistan or any other area of shared interest,” he said in a briefing.

Turkey has offered to guard and run Hamid Karzai airport after NATO’s withdrawal and has been holding talks with the United States on logistic and financial support for the mission.

Relations between Ankara and Washington continue to be strained however over a number of contentious issues.

Source: Arab Weekly

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