Saudi-led coalition accused of using Sudanese child mercenaries ‘like firewood’ to fuel Yemen war

Saudi-led coalition accused of using Sudanese child mercenaries ‘like firewood’ to fuel Yemen war
The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is recruiting Sudanese child soldiers from war-torn Darfur to serve on the front lines, according to a new report claiming children as young as 14 comprise up to 40 percent of some units.

Reports from Sudanese soldiers who’ve returned from Yemen indicate up to 14,000 Sudanese have been fighting for the Saudi-led coalition. Most hail from Darfur, a region still mired in chaos after a prolonged and bloody war that saw 300,000 people killed and 1.2 million displaced from their homes, and many are children, according to a shocking report from the New York Times.

So few are opportunities in war-torn Darfur that some families actually bribe militia officers to take their sons to fight in Yemen, according to the report. The Times interviewed five fighters returning from Yemen who confirmed children as young as 14 comprised at least a fifth of their units. Two soldiers said the proportion was closer to 40 percent.

The Sudanese mercenaries were literally cannon fodder, directed from afar through radio headsets and GPS by Saudi and Emirati commanders who preferred to maintain a safe distance from the front lines, according to soldiers who fought for the coalition. “They treat the Sudanese like their firewood,” said combat veteran Ahmed, who would not allow his full name to be printed for fear of government retaliation.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen is known to pad its ranks with mercenaries – including former US soldiers, controversially. But American soldiers aren’t cheap, and the Saudis have been recruiting young veterans of the Darfur conflict to get more bang for their buck. Many of these are veterans of the Janjaweed tribal militia whose brutality aroused international outcry during the Darfur conflict, where they are held responsible for committing war crimes including systematic rape, murder of civilians, and genocide.

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They are fighting in Yemen because they know that in Sudan they don’t have a future,” said economic consultant Hafiz Ismail Mohamed. “We are exporting soldiers to fight like they are commodity we are exchanging for foreign currency.” He lamented the state of the Sudanese economy where a skilled doctor could earn at most $500 a month while even a novice fighter received $655 for a month of combat – plus a $10,000 bonus after a six-month tour of duty.

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A Saudi military spokesman denied the government is recruiting children. Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Babikir Elsiddig Elamin was more circumspect in his denial, merely commenting that Sudan was fighting “in the interest of regional peace and stability.”

By all accounts, the war in Yemen is the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, leaving half the country’s population on the brink of starvation and decimating its civilian infrastructure. According to estimates from NGO Save the Children, up to 85,000 children may have died of starvation since hostilities began in 2015, and disease is rampant.

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