The government of Iran is reportedly exploiting Shiite refugees who have fled war-torn Afghanistan by coercing them to fight alongside forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, often leading them to their demise.
“In terms of how they are recruited, deployed, and utilized in Syria, many Afghan Shi’ite fighters have suffered the fate of being used as cannon fodder,” Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite jihadist groups, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“Some are coerced to fight, others promised residency papers for their family, and a small salary. It demonstrates Iran’s exploitation of Afghan Shi’ite refugees,” he added.
Afghanistan shares a border with Iran.
Shiite-controlled Iran denies being engaged in alleged covert but active recruitment of Afghan refugees to supplement Assad’s dwindling forces, which have been depleted amid the ongoing four-year war against opposition Sunni rebels that has left 240,000-plus people dead and millions more displaced.
Nevertheless, Afghan fighters and relatives of combatants killed in Syria have “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,” reported AFP.
Currently there is “a growing wave of jobless young Afghans seeking shelter in neighboring Iran from decades of turmoil and war tearing their country apart, only to be ensnared in another conflict,” noted the report.
Some experts estimate that there are at least 2,000 Afghans currently fighting in Syria.
Iran is Assad’s military and financial benefactor.
The AFP report highlighted the fate of two brothers from Kabul—one was grievously injured and the other was killed fighting for Assad in Syria.
Jehantab, a woman who asked to be identified only by her first name to avoid jeopardizing her chances of getting an Iranian residency permit, spoke to AFP of how Iran convinced her 35-year-old husband, Haider, to leave Afghanistan and fight for Assad by offering him a monthly salary of $700. He was also identified by first name only.
Haider, a laborer with no combat experience, was also promised an Iranian residency permit described by AFP as “an attractive inducement for refugees who otherwise live in constant fear of deportation.”
A few days after he left Afghanistan, an Iranian official informed his loved ones, also Afghan refugees living in Iran, that Haider had been killed while fighting in Syria.
Hussein, Haider’s brother, who was also enlisted by Iran to fight in Syria, suffered a deep shrapnel wound to his stomach.
He fought alongside 300-400 Afghans in Syria, he said, noting, “Many died, I survived.”
Hussein spoke to AFP from a hospital bed in Tehran just before being taken into surgery.
Tehran is not enlisting Afghan refugees, Iran’s embassy in Kabul told AFP, dismissing the allegation as “completely baseless.”
“But in a video posted online apparently by anti-Assad rebels last year, a dazed and bloodied Afghan militiaman is seen confessing that he was an illegal immigrant in Iran, where authorities offered him $600 a month to fight in Syria – or face deportation,” reported AFP.
The French news agency was unable to verify the authenticity of the video.
Afghan national Mohammed, a 27-year-old construction worker in Tehran who was identified by first name only, said he fought against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) alongside Iran’s proxy and Assad ally Hezbollah, a terrorist group based in Lebanon.
“The Islamic State is a common enemy of Iran and Afghanistan,” said Mohammed, who is among some Afghans who have willingly joined the fight to protect their sect, in particular the defense of the golden-domed Sayyeda Zainab, a prominent Shiite site located in a Damascus suburb. “This is a holy war… Afghan lives have no value.”