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US Adds Turkey to List of Countries Who Use Child Soldiers

Turkish Military parade in Baku, Azerbaijan, December 2020. Credit: Kerim Abbasov, CC BY 4.0

The United States has put Turkey on a list of countries that are thought to have been using child soldiers since at least last year. The US State Department is compiling the list, known as 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP). Turkey is the first and only NATO ally to be added.

The State Department found that Turkey was providing what they call “tangible support” to the Sultan Murad faction of Syrian opposition that frequently uses child soldiers. Turkey also has a military presence in Libya, which has used child soldiers as well. A senior State Department official addressed these findings in a statement made to the press:

“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.”

Countries put on the State Department’s list could face regulations on security aid and the commercial licensing of military equipment, but the State Department has not said whether or not Turkey will be restricted.

Turkey has fought in Syria and used Syrian armed forces three times. The United Nations has accused these forces of human rights violations, which Turkey has repeatedly denied.

The U.S. claims Turkey is using child soldiers as tensions rise

The addition of Turkey to the State Department’s list comes at a time of heightened tensions between Joe Biden and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Ankara and Washington have been struggling to repair ties, strained in recent years over several issues, including Turkey’s purchase of Russian defence systems which resulted in U.S. sanctions, policy differences in Syria, as well as Washington’s alarm over Ankara’s human rights track record.

The two NATO allies also have differing views in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as Ankara’s oil and gas ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Biden, who in a late 2019 interview with the New York Times called Turkey’s leader an “autocrat” and talked of emboldening Turkey’s opposition to force him out of office. Erdogan adviser Ibrahim Kalin later said this analysis of Biden’s stemmed from “pure ignorance, arrogance and hypocrisy.”

Things have improved little in the interim. Days after taking office, the Biden administration criticized Turkey’s imprisonment of political foes like Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

In April,Biden became the first US president in 40 years to recognize the Armenian genocide, upsetting Turkey, which refuses that label.

He also waited three months after taking office to speak with Mr Erdogan on the phone, which many viewed as an intentional slight.

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