The Child Soldier Crisis: ‘Kids Are Cheap’

The Pentagon’s Middle East policy chief decries new recruitment of children in Syria and the Yemen civil war.

When Michael Mulroy first met Anthony Opoka, Mulroy was a CIA paramilitary officer working to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a violent insurgency operating in central Africa against the government of Uganda. Mulroy noticed that Opoka, a young Acholi man working as a cultural advisor to Mulroy’s unit, had an old shoulder injury, and he inquired about it. Opoka revealed that as a young boy he was the personal radio operator for the notorious LRA leader Joseph Kony and one of 66,000 child soldiers who fought for the LRA from 1986 to 2009. 

During his time in the field, Mulroy, now the Pentagon’s outgoing Middle East policy chief, and his colleague former U.S. Navy SEAL Eric Oehlerich befriended Opoka and learned his story. Together, Mulroy and Oehlerich made a documentary about Opoka and his wife, Florence, who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army as children and met during their time fighting for Kony. The film, My Star in the Sky, first aired this summer.

Mulroy hopes the film will shed light on the growing global problem of child soldiers, which he says does not get enough attention. Although by 2017 Kony’s force had shrunk to just 100 soldiers, from an estimated high of 3,000, the United Nations that year identified a list of 14 countries where armed paramilitary groups still use child soldiers—including Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, and more. Meanwhile, nongovernmental organizations such as Child Soldiers International continue to struggle due to donations “fatigue,” Mulroy said.


Photo: ©Dimitar Dilkoff