Afghan insurgents have used a wave of child suicide bombers, some as young as 10, on the ruthless assumption that small boys can pass through checkpoints and security cordons more easily than men.
A senior Afghan intelligence official estimated that more than 100 had been intercepted in the past 12 months.
The official outlined how one child was instructed that the mission was as simple as touching two wires together. The resulting blast would obliterate the American infidels -- but God would spare him from the flame and shrapnel. Abdul Samat would be unharmed and free to run back to the men who had fitted his bomb vest.
Blindfolded and rigged with his explosive payload, the boy, who was about 13, was driven to his target in Kandahar, after being plucked from the streets of Quetta in neighbouring Pakistan. Minutes before he was due to execute the attack, however, Abdul realised the lies of his recruiters seeking to turn him into a human bomb.
"When I opened my eyes, I saw it was a very black thing they wanted me to do," he later recalled on Afghan television.
"I began to cry and shout. People came out of their houses and asked what was wrong. I showed them I had something in my vest. Then they were scared, too, and called the police who took the bombs off me."
Afghan security officials say that Abdul's story is not unusual. The largely illiterate boys are fed a diet of anti-Western and anti-Afghan government propaganda until they are prepared to kill, the official said. But the boys are also assured that they will miraculously survive.
"The worst part is that these children don't think that they are killing themselves," said the official. "They are often given an amulet containing Koranic verses. Mullahs tell them, 'When this explodes you will survive and God will help you survive the fire. Only the infidels will be killed, you will be saved and your parents will go to paradise'."
Throughout the war against the Soviet invaders in the 1980s, and the civil strife that followed, Afghan fighters of all factions rejected suicide attacks as cowardly and unIslamic.
The tactic was adopted only after 2001, learned from Arab jihadists who had used it to devastating effect in Iraq.
The first Afghan suicide bomber is believed to have been a man called Hafez Abdallah, who in 2004 threw himself on a military Jeep and detonated mortar bombs strapped to his body. Suicide bombs hidden in vehicles or sewn into vests have since been widely employed.
The Taliban denies using children as bombers, pointing out that its battlefield code forbids any military use of pre-pubescent boys.
One Taliban facilitator from northern Afghanistan said: "All our bombers are men and they are all volunteers. We never use boys."
But Nato and Afghan security officials said the tactic has been widely adopted. Child bombers had been used by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group aligned to the Taliban.
Boys are frequently chosen from the madrassas, or Islamic colleges, in Pakistan's tribal areas, where poor families in southern Afghanistan send their sons for a free education.
Gul Khan, who looks no older than 10, said his father had insisted he go to a madrassa in Pakistan run by a man called Maulawi Sher Jan.
"Each day they were preaching that we would tie bombs on to our bodies and attack foreigners in Afghanistan," he said after escaping and being arrested on the border.
Many of the captured boys have been pardoned, but others remain in juvenile jails. (© Daily Telegraph, London)