It’s been an incredibly quiet show. In recent years, the U.S. military has moved onto the African continent in a big way — and essentially, with the exception of Nick Turse (and Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post), just about no one has noticed. In a sense, it’s a reporter’s dream story. Something major is happening right before our eyes that could change our world in complex ways and no one’s even paying attention. Of course, in the West, developments in Africa have been “seen” that way for centuries: that is, little if at all. Think of it as the invisible continent. There can be no place that has, generally speaking, been less in American, or even in Western, consciousness until recently. This is, of course, changing fast in Europe as a wave of desperate immigrants from fragmenting Africa, dying in startling numbers in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean in every rickety kind of craft, has made a distinct impression.
The African continent has, in recent years, been aboil, a phenomenon to which the American military has only been adding as it pursues its unsettling “war on terror” in its usual disruptive ways — and Turse has been Johnny-on-the-spot. His reporting for TomDispatch and his new book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, have done much to give a higher profile to just what U.S. Africa Command has been doing across that continent. In his most recent report for TomDispatch from civil-war-torn South Sudan, he focused in for the first time on the phenomenon of child soldiers and how the Obama administration, which has denounced their use in countries that are not its allies, repeatedly looked the other way while a South Sudanese military it had built used them. It wasn’t a pretty tale. Today, he turns from U.S. and South Sudanese policy matters to the saddest story of all — those child warriors themselves and what makes them tick, drawing on his interviews with South Sudan’s youngest soldiers. Tom Engelhardt
The child veterans of South Sudan want to know
Will Americans support them?
By Nick Turse
PIBOR, South Sudan — “I’ve never been a soldier,” I say to the wide-eyed, lanky-limbed veteran sitting across from me. “Tell me about military life. What’s it like?” He looks up as if the answer can be found in the blazing blue sky above, shoots me a sheepish grin, and then fixes his gaze on his feet. I let the silence wash over us and wait. He looks embarrassed. Perhaps it’s for me.
Interviews sometimes devolve into such awkward, hushed moments. I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans over the years. Many have been reluctant to discuss their tours of duty for one reason or another. It’s typical. But this wasn’t the typical veteran — at least not for me.
Osman put in three years of military service, some of it during wartime. He saw battle and knows the dull drudgery of a soldier’s life. He had left the army just a month before I met him.
Osman is 15 years old.