The death toll among Iranian-recruited Shiite troops, including many Afghan citizens, fighting on behalf of dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria has surpassed 1,000, according to an official from the Shiite Islamic Republic.
“Now the number of Iran’s martyrs as defenders of shrine has exceeded 1,000,” Mohammadali Shahidi Mahallati, head of Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs, has been quoted as saying by the Islamic Republic’s state-controlled Tasnim News Agency, according to Reuters. The foundation provides financial support to the relatives of troops killed fighting for Iran.
“It was a major increase in the reported death toll from just four months ago, when the Islamic Republic announced that 400 of its soldiers had died on Syria’s battlefields,” notes the U.K.-based news agency, adding that Mahallati’s comments came as the number of volunteer Iranian fighters has skyrocketed far beyond what the Islamic Republic is prepared to send to Syria.
The number of fatalities underlines Iran’s increasing military footprint on the front lines of the Syrian civil war.
In late September, Fox News reported that up to 3,000 Iranian-backed fighters, including members of the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah and Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), had joined Assad troops and their Russian allies to launch a massive ground and air offensive against the rebel-held sector of Aleppo, a provincial capital city considered to be the epicenter of the Syrian conflict.
Avi Dichter, the former head of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency who now chairs of the country’s foreign affairs and defense committee, said earlier this month that Iran currently commands nearly 25,000 Shiite militants in Syria, most of whom are recruits from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Islamic Republic alludes to its fighters who are backing the Assad regime as “defenders of the shrine,” a reference to the various shrines in Syria revered by Shiites, including the Sayeda Zeinab mosque near Damascus, considered to be the holiest of them all.
Since the early stages of the ongoing Syrian civil war, which started in March 2011, Iran has been providing military support to Assad against the opposition, including rebels backed by the United States and members of the Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group.
“Half of the death toll reported in August were Afghan citizens,” points out Reuters.
“Many Iranians initially opposed involvement in Syria’s war, harboring little sympathy for Assad,” it adds. “But now they are warming to the mission, believing that the Sunni jihadist Islamic State is a threat to the existence of their country that is best fought outside Iran’s borders.”
Public opinion in the Islamic Republic is increasingly shifting in favor of Iranian intervention in Syria, points out Reuters.