ISIS recruiting children to fight in Syria

RAQQA, Syria -- An American-trained combat unit in Syria is taking high casualtiesin what one U.S. official calls "a friggin' mess."

The U.S. is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to train Syrians to fight the Islamic extremist group ISIS. But only 54 soldiers have been trained -- and in the last few days 25 percent of them have been killed, wounded or captured.

CBS News Pentagon correspondent David Martin is being told others in the unit have scattered.

Fighting ISIS

U.S. and allied warplanes attacked 19 targets Monday in Iraq and Syria. There were no U.S. casualties.

ISIS dismembered Syria and Iraq and now runs its "caliphate," or government, from its capital city, Raqqa. That's where the terrorist group is reaching down deep for new recruits.

Here's what the boys of Raqqa are learning at camp this summer.

"By Allah", he says "Obama and all of you who ganged up against the Islamic State, we, the Cubs of the Caliphate, will kill you."

The Cubs of the Caliphate are boys as young as eight, drafted by ISIS for suicide missions, fighting and executions.

One woman -- we'll call her Amina for her own protection -- was terrified ISIS would get hold of her nephew.

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She escaped from Raqqa last year, and now -- with huge relief -- she's meeting her 14-year-old nephew fresh off the bus from the city.

In Raqqa, Amina told CBS News, the teenager was afraid to go outside in case ISIS took him. They look for kids 10 to 14 because they are easy to brainwash.

Almost two years ago, ISIS took over Raqqa, formerly a sleepy city on the Euphrates River.

They imposed shariah law and staged various public atrocities, which Amina knows her nephew witnessed.

"The worst was the heads of the soldiers stuck on poles," she said. "My nephew vomited for three days straight."

Thanks to Amina, he escaped the fate of so many other boys in northern Syria. But despite punishing U.S.-led airstrikes on Raqqa, ISIS still rules there.

Amina is afraid ISIS will kill her mother -- who's still in Raqqa -- and she grieves for the children of neighbors and friends, now trapped in the city by violent extremism.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."