On stage, the boys told reporters that they wanted to divorce themselves from religious extremists and return to their families. They seemed ripe for exactly the kind of services offered by the rehabilitation program.

But at the Kabul center, detainees call Taliban members on borrowed cellphones to reassure them that their commitment to jihad has not weakened. Taliban commanders promise to reward the boys for serving prison sentences, the detainees said…

For now, the juvenile center’s practices do not always match its lofty ambitions. Several days a week, when religious officials are unable to teach Koran classes, Asha leads the group instead. While a group of boys told an American reporter that their ultimate goal was “to kill you people,” a social worker within earshot appeared unfazed, saying nothing.

“How much progress are these centers really making?” said Latifullah Mashal, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence service.