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US places Turkey on list of countries implicated in use of child soldiers

State Department said the listing was not tied to negotiations over Ankara's potential running of the Kabul airport in Afghanistan
The US State Department determined in a report that Turkey was providing "tangible support" to the Sultan Murad division in Syria
US State Department determined Turkey was providing 'tangible support' to the Sultan Murad Division in Syria (AFP)

The United States placed Turkey on a list of countries implicated in the use of child soldiers, a move that is likely to complicate already fraught ties between Ankara and Washington.

The State Department determined in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report published on Thursday that Turkey was providing "tangible support" to the Sultan Murad Division in Syria, an armed group made up of Syrian Turkmen fighters that Washington said recruited and used child soldiers.

In a briefing call with reporters, a senior State Department official also cited the use of child soldiers in Libya and said that Washington was hoping to work with Ankara to address the issue.

"With respect to Turkey in particular...this is the first time a Nato member has been listed in the child soldier prevention act list," the State Department official said.

"As a respected regional leader and member of Nato, Turkey has the opportunity to address this issue, the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Syria and Libya.

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"The United States hopes to work with Turkey to encourage all groups involved in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts not to use child soldiers, and we hope to work with Turkey to address this issue in the long run."

The decision to place Turkey on the list marks the first time the US has made the designation against a Nato ally.

Kabul airport agreement

Turkey has carried out three cross-border operations in Syria against the Islamic State (IS) group as well as US-backed Kurdish militias, and has frequently used factions of armed Syrian fighters on top of its own forces.

Some of these groups have been accused by human rights groups and the United Nations of indiscriminately attacking civilians and carrying out kidnappings and lootings, accusations that Ankara called "baseless".

Turkey has also played a pivotal role in Libya, where Ankara's support helped the Tripoli-based government reverse a 14-month assault from eastern forces led by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, backed by Egypt and Russia.

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Governments placed on this list are subject to restrictions, according to the State Department report, on certain security assistance and commercial licensing of military equipment, absent a presidential waiver.

However, it was not immediately clear whether any restrictions would automatically apply to Turkey.

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday said that the listing of Turkey was not connected to ongoing negotiations over the potential running of the Kabul airport in Afghanistan.

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Joe Biden reached a verbal agreement earlier this month that would see Turkey take over the airport's security after the vast majority of Nato forces pull out of Afghanistan, which is expected to be completed in mid-July.

Erdogan asked for financial and logistical aid, as well as assistance from partner countries.

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