Thousands of Shiite Afghan refugees have been recruited by Iran to fight in defense of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today.
Shiite Iran, Assad’s key military and financial patron, denies enlisting Afghan mercenaries to fight alongside Syrian forces in the four-year conflict against opposition Sunni rebels that has left more than 240,000 people dead and millions displaced.
But interviews with Afghan fighters and relatives of combatants killed in Syria point to a vigorous — and sometimes coerced — recruitment drive of Shiite Hazara refugees by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps propping up Assad’s floundering regime. …
“In terms of how they are recruited, deployed, and utilized in Syria, many Afghan Shiite fighters have suffered the fate of being used as cannon fodder,” said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militant groups, who estimates there are 2,000 to 3,500 Afghans currently fighting in Syria.
Calling it “exploitation,” Smyth explained that the Afghans are forcibly recruited or offered inducements such as residency papers and salaries.
While Iran officially denies the exploitation of Afghan refugees, AFP interviewed one fighter named Mohammed, who said he was working illegally as a laborer in Tehran when he was sent to fight in Syria along with dozens of other Afghans. Mohammed, who claimed he was recruited by the regime under the threat of deportation, told AFP that Iran doesn’t have troops fighting, but that “the command is in their control.”
In May of this year, Der Spiegel first reported on Iran’s recruitment of Afghan refugees.
… no ethnic group is represented on all of the regime’s fronts to the degree that the Afghan Hazara are. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but some 700 of them are thought to have lost their lives in Aleppo and Daraa alone. What’s worse, most of them don’t come completely of their own free will.
Up to 2 million Hazara live in Iran, most of them as illegal immigrants. It is an inexhaustible reservoir of the desperate, from which the Pasdars — as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are called — have recruited thousands for the war in Syria over the last year and a half.
[Photo: لواء فاطمیون / YouTube ]