A 13-year-old boy on Friday reportedly detonated a suicide bomb at a wedding party in Nangarhar, eastern Afghanistan, home to the most prominent Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) stronghold in the region, killing at least five people and injuring 14 others, according to local officials.
“The explosion happened at the wedding of commander Malak Tor’s nephew, specifically at the time when food was being served and many people had gathered in one place,” Atahullah Khogyani, a spokesman for Nangarhar province’s governor, told Al Jazeera.
“Among the [five] dead is Tor himself and one child,” Khogyani added.
News reports on the casualty figures from the attack vary. Khogyani revised the number of people injured down to 14 from 40. The number of fatalities from the deadly incident ranged from five to ten.
On July 12 that the bomber, a young boy, set off his explosives inside the house of militia commander Malek Tor, who was killed in the attack in Pacheragam district.
Tor had led a group fighting against the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
Khogyani said the dead included Tor’s two sons, a child, and five other civilians.
The Nangarhar province spokesman revealed that the 13-year-old boy detonated his explosives inside the house of a pro-government militia commander in Pacheragam district who had been helping Afghan forces in their fight against ISIS and the Taliban.
The Taliban has also targeted pro-government militias in the recent past, killing and wounding dozens
Friday’s report about the child suicide bomber surfaced a few months after the United Nations revealed that — as well as jihadi groups — the U.S.-backed Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) also recruits child soldiers, a practice prohibited by international law.
In February, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported:
UNAMA continued to receive reports of recruitment and use of children by Anti-Government Elements, Afghan national security forces, and pro-Government armed groups. Anti-Government Elements continued to recruit and use children for combat roles, and while progress has been made within the Afghan national security forces concerning formal recruitment of children, the use of children remained a problem.
In 2018, UNAMA documented the recruitment and use of 38 children (37 boys and one girl), the majority in the eastern region [home to Nangarhar]. It attributed the recruitment and use of 17 children [by various jihadi groups inlcuding ISIS and the Taliban].
Children continue to be recruited by Anti-Government Elements to plant IEDs, transport explosives, assist in intelligence gathering, carry out suicide attacks and participate in hostilities.
The recruitment of children also remains a problem at ANDSF, which includes police and military troops. ANDSF’s development is funded by the most substantial portion (over $80 billion) of the American taxpayer subsidized nation-building efforts in Afghanistan since 2001 when the war began.
UNAMA also acknowledged that recruited children are subjected to sexual abuse, particularly the abhorrent bacha bazi, a now illegal ancient custom in Afghanistan where boys are sexually abused by powerful men.
Some Taliban jihadis have reportedly used Afghan soldiers affinity for young boys to have them infiltrate the ANDSF ranks and kill them, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.
Last year, the number of children fatalities, mainly by the Taliban, reached unprecedented levels in Afghanistan — 3,062 child casualties (927 deaths and 2,135 injured).
No group has claimed responsibility for the wedding party attack, but Islamic State militants have executed a string of suicide attacks in recent weeks on government offices, schools, and aid groups in recent years in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar.
The U.S. military has determined that Nangahar houses the strongest bastion held by ISIS in the region, which American armed forces officials believe is intent on attacking the American homeland. Both the Taliban and ISIS operate in Nangarhar, one of Afghanistan’s’ top opium-rich regions that generate hundreds of millions in terror funding for jihadis.
The Taliban has denied responsibility for the recent suicide bombing. Nevertheless, Taliban-linked Islamic education institutions known as madrassas are known to target children in vulnerable poor families, promising to pay their expenses, provide food and clothing for the boys, and at times even cash to convince the families to send their kids to madrassas.
Taliban rival the Islamic State, or IS, also targets children for recruitment, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RG) reported in August 2018, noting:
Besides brutalizing women, IS fighters have also killed local elders and those who they considered government sympathizers. Locals say the militants also used children as soldiers, a claim supported by the high number of children or young men among the IS fighters who surrendered to government forces.
The U.S. is engaged in peace negotiations with Afghanistan to end America’s longest military engagement, for which the American public has lost its appetite.