On the Front Line of the Saudi War in Yemen: Child Soldiers From Darfur
KHARTOUM, Sudan — The civil war in Darfur robbed Hager Shomo Ahmed of almost any hope. Raiders had stolen his family’s cattle, and a dozen years of bloodshed had left his parents destitute.
Then, around the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia offered a lifeline: The kingdom would pay as much as $10,000 if Hager joined its forces fighting 1,200 miles away in Yemen.
Hager, 14 at the time, could not find Yemen on a map, and his mother was appalled. He had survived one horrific civil war — how could his parents toss him into another? But the family overruled her.
“Families know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back money,” Hager said in an interview last week in the capital, Khartoum, a few days after his 16th birthday.
The United Nations has called the war in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. An intermittent blockade by the Saudis and their partners in the United Arab Emirates has pushed as many as 12 million people to the brink of starvation, killing some 85,000 children, according to aid groups.
Led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudis say they are battling to rescue Yemen from a hostile faction backed by Iran. But to do it, the Saudis have used their vast oil wealth to outsource the war, mainly by hiring what Sudanese soldiers say are tens of thousands of desperate survivors of the conflict in Darfur to fight, many of them children.