KABUL, Afghanistan — Boys almost always look up to their elder brothers and their friends, but what if your brother is a suicide bomber or one in training — do you want to train, too?
A new and disturbing video posted on YouTube that has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times shows a group of Afghan or Pakistani Pashtun boys role-playing the last moments in the life of a suicide bomber. Whether it is meant as a rehearsal or as a form of propaganda for the Taliban is impossible to say, but the message is clear: This is something to aspire to.
The 84-second video shows a boy dressed in black with a black scarf over his face embracing other boys, probably from his religious school, or madrasa, because several are wearing the round cap typical of Pashtun madrasa students in southeastern Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas, said Afghans who had seen it.
When he finishes saying farewell, he walks resolutely toward a hatless boy in a white garment, who appears to represent an official. The boy in white holds up his hand as if to say stop, but the suicide bomber keeps going and the other boy stumbles backward.
Then the bomber kicks up a cloud of dust, to represent the explosion, and three other boys, who wear brown garments and appear to be playing members of the security forces, fall down with their arms outspread, as does the boy playing the official. The camera lingers over their faces, and in a reminder that this is playacting, one of boys is almost smiling, but then adopts a more sober look.
The music in the background is a favorite Taliban song:
My beloved is going to fight, so he has long hair
He carries his machine gun on his shoulder, which looks so fine on him.
He is going to battle, going to fight.
A Taliban spokesman said the insurgents did not make the video. And though he expressed regrets that such things had become reality even for children, he made it clear that the Taliban approved. “We are saddened that children are playing this game, but they should do it because this is a war that was imposed upon us,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman for the northern and eastern parts of the country.
Although Mr. Mujahid said that the minimum approved age for fighters was 18 or 19, boys younger than 18 have been arrested on the battlefield. A 14-year-old would-be suicide bomber from North Waziristan was recently apprehended by the Afghan National Directorate of Intelligence.
“The positive aspect of the video is that it motivates the children for jihadi ideas,” Mr. Mujahid said. “The negative point is that it affects their lives.
“It gives them courage for this kind of work, but children should not do this kind work at this age. But they should have an idea about jihad in their mind, and they should prepare themselves for sacrifice.”
Jihadi videos featuring children are hardly a new phenomenon in Islamic extremist movements. Late in the war in Iraq, the American-led coalition captured videos showing children learning how to kidnap people.
Several Web sites have featured a portrait of a boy carrying an assault rifle and surrounded by older Taliban youths. In some measure this is propaganda that appears aimed at sending the message that no matter how many Taliban fighters are killed, there is an unlimited supply of young men who are ready to join the cause.
Officials from Afghan humanitarian organizations said they were deeply disturbed by the video, which is a reminder of the violence in the culture, they said.
“Uploading these kinds of videos on YouTube is an effort by the insurgents to brainwash the children and then use them for their own purpose,” said Mohammed Yousaf, the general director of Aschiana, a nongovernmental group that protects children in Afghanistan.
“Families buy plastic weapons for their children, and then the children form groups and start shooting at each other,” he said. “But these kind of games can create a huge problem in the future when the children are motivated to get bigger weapons and fight.”
Sharifullah Sahak and Taimoor Shah contributed reporting.