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Youths with rifles: The U.S. should stop arming children in Somalia

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The use of children as soldiers is one of the darkest marks in recent years on the record of some of the most brutal regimes and militias known to mankind.

In Africa, child soldiers have been one of the trademarks of armies such as that of Charles Taylor in Liberia, Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known particularly for amputating limbs, killing randomly and coercing other children to serve as recruits and concubines.

The United States has been providing money and equipment to the armed forces of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, which employ child soldiers, some as young as 9 or 10. It is estimated that as many as 2,000 youths are under arms, according to a report in last Monday's New York Times. The United States, in the form of the U.S. Africa Command, was involved in providing military training in Uganda to some of them.

It is nothing new that the United States, acting in the name of anti-terrorism, has played an unhelpful role in Somalia. The 2006 invasion and occupation of the country by the armed forces of neighboring Ethiopia benefited from U.S. intelligence support and jet fighter-bomber attacks on Ethiopia's Somali opponents.

Nor is it new that the United States supports the desperate attempt of the transitional government, organized and imposed from outside the country, to hold onto the few city blocks of the capital Mogadishu that it controls. But paying child soldiers?

The United States needs to step away publicly from the Somali Transitional Federal Government, stating its reason and cutting off its funding, until the United Nations or other human rights organizations can verify that it has abandoned the practice of using children as soldiers. It should be easy enough to see.

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