The picture was given to Aljazeera.net by the Islamic Observation Centre to highlight the plight of children in Afghanistan.

It will now be shown to delegates and discussed at the Washington Conference on Civil Liberties in America on Saturday, 25 October.

Taken by a strategically placed camera, and using a telephoto lens, the undercover photographer snapped a four-year-old child having his clothing searched by a heavily armed US soldier.

Taliban fighters

The child and his friends were playing in the village of Zermit in Paktika when American soldiers, hunting for Taliban fighters, arrived.

Sheepish: Nervous US soldiers in
Zermit keep a watchful eye

"Those children could have been carrying explosives," said an unapologetic US Major Peter Mitchell who was shown the picture by Aljazeera.net.

Major Mitchell, a US marine and spokesman for US Central Command, added: "The troops on the ground in Afghanistan will respond accordingly to whatever threat in that environment exists.

"Maybe they received intelligence that children were carrying explosives and that the children could be used against coalition forces.

"Coalition forces will do whatever it is they need to do to protect themselves. In times of conflict their personal security comes before hearts and minds.

Trigger fingers

"If someone is offended because a four-year-old is being searched they should know that the security of forces will always come first."

Aljazeera.net was given another picture also taken in Zermit village, at the same time, which appeared to show nervous-looking, armed US soldiers aiming their weapons at a sheep during a house search.

Not everyone shares Major Mitchell's views of the child search. Mauri Saalakhan, director of the Peace and Justice Foundation in America said he was shocked when shown the pictures by Aljazeera.net.

"My first reaction is concern for the welfare of the children of Afghanistan. It is quite possible tragedies could unfold if trigger-nervous US soldiers look at these children as potential security risks.

"..tragedies could unfold if trigger nervous US soldiers look at these children as potential security risks"

Mauri Saalakhan,
director,
Peace and Justice Foundation

Civil liberties

"We will raise awareness about this and will certainly be discussing the issue at the civil liberties conference later this month in Washington," added Saalakhan.

Yasser Ansiri, director of the Islamic Observation Centre based in London, said one of his correspondents based in Afghanistan and Pakistan had taken the picture, but wished to remain anonymous so he could continue his work.

"This is a shocking picture. We want Aljazeera.net to show the world what the Americans are doing in Afghanistan. It is a picture which will shame the US military," added Ansiri, spokesman for the centre which is a human rights organisation.