Barely eighteen years and yet a dreaded warlord: Ghazwan al-Mekhlafi is one of the most powerful fighters in the second largest city in Yemen. He conducts a gruesome regime and is one of the most ‘successful’ child soldiers in the country.
Presumably Mekhlafi, a clean-shaven and slenderly built young man, is only 16 to 17 years old. His troops – who also carry his name – were involved last week in a massacre in the Yemenite city of Taiz. The boy was arrested by some soldiers but released a few hours later. And not without reason because Mekhlafi is one of the most powerful figures and you do not just take them prisoner.
Ten-year arms dealer
Those who still live in Taiz do not say a bad word about Mekhlafi. A former neighbour of the boy dares to boldly testify about his past, on condition that it happens anonymously. He says that the boy did not study or worked for the civil war in 2015. Instead, he sold weapons at the age of ten. “Mekhlafi was surrounded by adult soldiers. He did not play like a normal child, but chewed tobacco and learned to fight,” said the old neighbour.
“Once the civil war started, the child soldier fought against the Shiite Houthis. His uncle then took the order”, the neighbour testifies. Because the boy – who at that time probably was not 14 years old – did so well on the battle scene, he would from now on command the front line. “And here in Yemen it is a real honour to see your child fight against the Shiite Houthis.”
Sheikh and moneywave
Besides being an inexorable executioner, Mekhlafi is also a sheik, a ‘man’ with respect. If there is disagreement in the village, the adolescent knocks through. And in exchange for all that wisdom he sometimes demands some money. What the boy does with all that money, do not dare to ask the residents of Taiz. They pay the price for the policy of their powerful child soldier (at the centre of the photo below).