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Who can spot an angel of death?

EVER wondered what a Taliban suicide bomber looks like? Meet 14-year-old Rafiqullah.

He is typical of the children sent to attack British troops, in the way that four Marines were killed yesterday.

And when the face of the enemy is a helpless child, how do you fight? This is our problem in Afghanistan. When I was in Helmand last summer, I learned a lot about this sick tactic which the Taliban use all the time.

The enemy know British soldiers are keen to make friends with the local kids. Give them water, have a laugh. So they exploit this. They find kids — normally orphans, drug addicts or the mentally ill — and groom them for death.

These are not the serious, adult suicide bombers used by Palestinian terrorists against Israel. The kids often fail.

I met one soldier in the summer who saw a child blow himself up: he’d forgot to attach ball bearings to his suicide belt. It blew the solder’s hat off: a proper bomb would have killed him.

He told me there’s no way to protect yourself. Either you retreat back into the base, never venture into the village, never try to win hearts and minds. Or you go about reconstructing as best you can: knowing that anyone you meet may have a suicide bomb on.

That’s why the Taliban keep sending children across the border, to meet and kill British troops. They churn them out gleefully, calling them ‘Mullah Omar’s Missiles’ and ‘our atomic bombs’. Four years ago, there were just six suicide attacks in Afghanistan. Last year, 130 – with a total 1,730 victims.

Often, they trick them into suicide missions. The child who killed the Marines yesterday pushed a wheelbarrow of explosives. He was in the Sangin area, right on the border. Investigators say he may not have known what he was carrying.

The Taliban use children like the Israeli army use robots. Seldom has a fighting force been so callous.

American soldiers in Ghanzi province found a boy aged SIX who had a suicide vest strapped to him. The Army even discovered a gory Taliban video of a boy aged about 12 being taught how to behead a captive with a knife. Crucially, they are not Afghan. The recruits are almost always from asylums or care homes in neighbouring Pakistan.

Suicide bombing is NOT an Afghan tactic. It was NEVER used during the mujahedeen’s war against the Soviets.

There are suspicions that a ‘Division 242’ of the Pakistani Intelligence Service masterminds the recruiting. Of course, the Pakistanis deny this. But this fractured government plays double games with everyone.

The Pakistani authorities have practically handed their city of Quetta to the Taliban. They sit, recruit and wait.

One Cabinet member told me that we can never win if we see this as an Afghan war. Because it isn’t — not to them.

It’s an Afghan-Pakistan war. The Taliban is lying over the border, recuperating and fitting suicide vests to children.

While reinforcements are welcome, victory in Afghanistan is not just about troop numbers. It’s about boundaries.

Until Allied troops can go over the lawless Pakistan border, we’ll never defeat them.

IN DUBLIN AND ATHENS there has been rioting in the streets. Each with its own excuse: budget cuts, the arrest of a teenager, whatever. But in bad recessions, dole queues rise and people get angry (as we saw with the poll tax riots). I suspect it won’t be long until some of this starts here.



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