The photograph of an 8-year-old boy smoking a cigarette with an AK-47 slung over his shoulders is sadly just what it seems, an image of how life has been shattered for a generation of Syrians.
Found one day on the front line of the Salahadeen district of Aleppo by photographer Sebastiano Tomada Piccolomini, who has been traveling to Syria since 2012 to capture the reality of war zones in places like Aleppo, the boy — whose name is Ahmed — is the son of a Syrian rebel fighter.
After his parents were both killed in a mortar strike in Salahadeen, Ahmed has been under the care of his uncle, Piccolomini told ABCNews.com in an email interview.
Piccolomini said the boy told him: “I ended up helping my uncle and his comrades because I have no other choice. There is no school, my family is dead, what choice do I have?”
“You find young fighters here and there, but they are usually 16, 17, 18,” Piccolomini said.
“[Ahmed] wakes up when his uncle wakes up, there is no specific time,” Piccolomini said. “It depends on the mission of the day or if they had a late and long night operation.”
Piccolomini said Ahmed told him, “There is no schedule or time here in Salahadeen.”
While children with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are not necessarily used to fight, they usually assist their comrades, Piccolomini said. Ahmed mainly helps with chores and brings tea, in addition to manning a post with a rifle and resupplying his comrades with home-made grenades and bullets, he said.
Ahmed told Piccolomini that when he is not helping the FSA, his favorite thing to do is “playing soldier.”
“Weapons are heavy and I still have a difficult time shooting them,” he told Piccolomini. “I can only shoot resting on the floor.
“There is always something to do here,” he told Piccolomini. “I am never bored.”