Pompeo blocks Saudi inclusion on list of countries that recruit child soldiers: report

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoU.S. releases new photos purporting to show Iran was behind tanker attack U.S. releases new photos purporting to show Iran was behind tanker attack Tensions with Iran reach new stage over uranium threat MORE blocked his agency from including Saudi Arabia on a list of countries that use child soldiers, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

Pompeo reportedly intervened to keep the country off the list despite findings by State Department experts that the Saudi-led coalition involved in neighboring Yemen’s civil war has used underage fighters, according to the news service, citing four people familiar with the matter.

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Experts at the State Department requested Saudi Arabia’s inclusion based on a combination of news reports and analyses by human rights groups, Reuters reported.

Ultimately, Pompeo sided with other State Department officials who argued it was unclear whether the forces in question, reportedly child fighters from Sudan, were under the command of Sudanese officers or directed by the Saudi coalition, according to the news outlet.

Sudanese fighters told The New York Times in December that their United Arab Emirates and Saudi commanders directed them from a distance in the campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The U.S. will add Sudan back to the list after removing it last year, according to Reuters. A spokesman for Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, which has contributed combatants in the Yemen conflict, told Reuters: “Based on Sudanese laws, it does not recruit minors.”

“The United States condemns the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers,” a State Department spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. “We place great importance on ending the practice wherever it occurs.”

The Saudi Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, the State Department is required to issue an annual report on countries using child soldiers. No foreign militaries on the list can receive U.S. aid unless the president issues a waiver based on “national interest.”

U.S.-Saudi ties have been under intense scrutiny in recent months due to a combination of concerns about human rights abuses in the Yemen campaign and the murder of Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

–Updated at 2:02 p.m.

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