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Child Suicide Bombers

Lara Logan reports on the recruitment of child suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Pakistan and one psychologist's fight to rehabilitate youth trained by the Taliban

The following script is from "Child Suicide Bombers" which aired on May 17, 2015. Lara Logan is the correspondent. Tom Anderson, producer.

In its propaganda, ISIS uses gruesome videos of beheadings and mass executions, but on the battlefield, suicide bombers have become one of its most effective weapons. They are like modern kamikazes and many of the bombers are children. It is difficult to know how many children have been trained in Iraq and Syria, but there have been reports the number in recent months is in the hundreds.

It's a tactic perfected by the Taliban and other terrorist networks who systematically recruit and train child suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And that's where we went to learn how children, as young as seven years old, are being turned into human bombs, with devastating effect.

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Lara Logan: How difficult is it to stop a child suicide bomber?

General Bajwa: As long as the child is in their custody and he's been indoctrinated, there is hardly anything that you can do. You would never expect a child to come to you and blow himself up.

Asim Bajwa, a major general in the Pakistani army, told us that in just one province, close to 400 Pakistani soldiers have been killed by teenaged suicide bombers.

Lara Logan: So, this is organized? This is not random or haphazard?

General Bajwa: They've become organized. And they have a proper training regime. They motivate people and recruit them.

We wanted to find out how the children are recruited and we were introduced to this man by an Afghan journalist who works for CBS News. He said he is a Taliban commander with ties to al Qaeda and recruited children in Afghanistan.

Lara Logan: Is there an advantage to using child suicide bombers over adults? I mean, why do you do that?

Commander: Children accept what you say after you talk to them just a couple of times. They can be used in rickshaw, bicycle or motorcycle attacks.

It's made him a wanted man but he agreed to meet us in Kabul because he could tell an American audience why he's at war with the U.S. We insisted on meeting at a secure location and he insisted on concealing his identity.

Commander: We have suicide bombers from all districts of Helmand Province. They are as young as 12, 13, up to 50 years old.

Lara Logan: I want to know, when you look at these young boys, what makes you decide, "This one, I'm going to choose this one to kill himself"?

Commander: It takes four, six, seven months of training. Everyone knows who is fit for what kind of work. You can easily understand their abilities for different tasks, like to be a fighter, a watchman or a suicide bomber.

That's what the Taliban claimed this teenager was doing in a propaganda video they distributed. It showed a car loaded with explosives. Then the video showed what appeared to be the same car driving off to a mountain road. As an American convoy started to pass, the car bomb was detonated. The Taliban commander told us the child bombers are martyrs, motivated by religious honor. But General Bajwa says many children are forced to join.

General Bajwa
CBS News

General Bajwa: There are children who have been abducted.

Lara Logan: There's also threat, violence, intimidation.

General Bajwa: Yeah. When Talibans gained control of some of the areas, they asked families to give away one child along with some cattle and some money contributing to their cause and the parents had no option but they did it out of fear.

Children learn how to become human bombs in remote training camps like this one in an unforgiving part of northern Afghanistan. It is rare for journalists to be allowed inside, but our local cameraman managed to get permission. He captured these images of children being trained to handle conventional weapons but he was told they were here primarily to learn how to wear and detonate suicide vests.

Translator: This is the place where the special leader of the Americans is staying. One person has to reach this place with your suicide vest.

Boy: I have only been here a week. I want to kill and eliminate the infidels.

Once these children are taken to the camps they are not allowed to leave to see their parents again...

2nd boy: My family knows I am here but they can't stop me. I am here to commit suicide on America.

Lara Logan: What do you tell these boys will be their reward for doing this?

Commander: We teach the holy Quran to them. We teach them that we have been promised by Allah that we will be sent to paradise.

The Taliban commander said his whole family is ready to go to paradise.

Commander: I want to sacrifice myself, my wife, everyone.

Lara Logan: Well you haven't, you've been with the Taliban 11, 12 years or longer and you haven't blown yourself up yet.

Commander: I am ready but I have other responsibilities.

Lara Logan: You have two sons of your own. Would you want them to be suicide bombers?

Commander: Yes, I have made a promise to Allah. I have devoted them to commit suicide attacks for the will of our God. I have raised them and they will do it if Allah is willing.

Lara Logan: So you would give your own son?

Commander: Yes. Of course. One of my sons already knows about it. When you ask him what are you going to do, he says he is going to fight the infidels. He is five years old. He asks me when he will go for jihad. He is mentally ready for it.

Lara Logan: I just don't understand that. I don't know how to understand that.

Commander: Well you know nothing about the holy Quran. You are not a believer.

Afghan police told us that many young believers were locked up in this Kabul prison, where they are segregated from other criminals. Authorities said all these teenagers had been trained to blow themselves up.

Lara Logan: And all the 37 suicide bombers that you have in this jail, they're in there?

Man: Yes.

The youngest we were told was 13. We tried to talk to them, but they didn't want to talk to us.

Since our visit, there have been more arrests -- more than 90 children and teenagers -- according to Afghan intelligence. Pakistan has decided to take a different approach. Many child bombers were recruited here in the Swat Valley. Honeymooners used to come here because of its natural beauty and its long tradition of music and song. Then, in 2006, the Taliban moved in. They banned music and art, blew up schools and beat or killed people who opposed them. Three years later, the Pakistani army drove them out and claims to have found hundreds of child soldiers in the Taliban camps. Rather than lock them up, the Pakistani military decided to try to rehabilitate many of them.

Doctor: Some of them have conducted some very violent acts. But I saw hope that they weren't hard, fast militants. We could change them.

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Lara Logan walks with psychologist
CBS News

This psychologist was hired by the army in 2009 to run a school for these children. Taking on the Taliban is a dangerous job, so she asked us to alter her voice and not to use her name. The school is called, Sabaoon, which means First Light at Dawn. Security here is tight, like a top-secret military installation. The children are held here until the doctors decide they're no longer at risk of returning to the Taliban.

"Some of [the child soldiers] have conducted some very violent acts. But I saw hope that they weren't hard, fast militants. We could change them."

Lara Logan: So what kind of condition are these boys in when they come here?

Doctor: Actually, they-- the reality testing is compromised.

Lara Logan: What do you mean by reality testing?

Doctor: They don't know what was real or what was not when they were in the camps, isolated from the normal way of life, shown videos that were not real. You're not seeing any other videos but beheadings. What kind of damage does that do to your empathy?

To help reverse that damage, the children are treated by psychologists and social workers and receive religious training about a moderate Islam, not the radical Islam preached by the Taliban.

Lara Logan: Can you tell me a little bit of what kind of abuse they suffered?

Doctor: Well I think psychological abuse, to begin with, and of course, physical abuse at times.

Lara Logan: And by physical, you mean beatings?

Doctor: Yeah.

Lara Logan: Sexual abuse?

Doctor: I don't want to talk about that.

Lara Logan: Because it's humiliating for the boys?

Doctor: If they hear me talking about it, they will be embarrassed or ashamed.

Lara Logan: What was the most harrowing story you were told?

Doctor: I guess a young child who's here still whose father took all his sons to become suicide bombers. And I cannot-- and the mother allowed it to happen.

Lara Logan: And how old was he?

Doctor: Seven.

Lara Logan: Do you think he would have done it? He would've blown himself up?

Doctor: Yes.

Lara Logan: Why do you say that?

Doctor: Authority of the father. In this case, the militant and the father were one and the same person. It's easy to accept that authority.

"I would say it takes greater courage to forgive people than to punish them."

Family members who are not connected to the Taliban are allowed to visit their children under controlled conditions at the school. If the children can convince their psychologists that they have renounced terrorism, they are released.

Lara Logan: Does it take a lot to forgive these children and welcome them back into the society?

General Bajwa: I would say it takes greater courage to forgive people than to punish them.

The school says it has treated more than 220 children; 164 of them have been allowed to return home where they continue to be monitored by school officials and authorities. They arranged for us to meet some of the boys - the one on the right told us he was trained to be a suicide bomber. He said he is still very afraid of being tracked down and killed by the Taliban.

Lara Logan: How much risk are you taking in talking to us?

Boy: I don't want people to be able to recognize me from my face.

After three months of training, he says one night he was assigned to blow up a mosque the next morning.

Boy: It was a very difficult night. I was very scared.

Lara Logan: And how old were you?

Boy: Thirteen.

Lara Logan: Thirteen?

Boy: Yes.

As he was walking to the mosque, he told us he realized that blowing it up would be wrong.

Boy: I turned to look back and saw that the guy who dropped me off had left. So I decided to go inside and surrender to the police.

A school official who monitored the interview said he did not surrender but was captured. The boy was fortunate that the person who dropped him off - his "handler" - had decided to leave the scene. According to Major General Bajwa, child bombers often have a handler to make sure they don't back out.

General Bajwa: In some cases he would hold the remote control. And he would explode.

Lara Logan: So if the child doesn't blow himself up the handler would blow the child up?

General Bajwa: Yeah. You know, this has been a technique that has been used in cases, yeah.

Suicide bombers are promised an after-life in paradise, but this is where Kabul residents say many of them are buried -- in a modest cemetery on the outskirts of the capital. The graves are unmarked, we were told, so the Taliban cannot celebrate the bombers as martyrs and use their dusty graves as fertile ground to rally even more children to the cause.

  • Lara Logan

    Lara Logan's bold, award-winning reporting from war zones has earned her a prominent spot among the world's best foreign correspondents. Logan began contributing to 60 Minutes in 2005.