Report: Iran Using Afghans as ‘Cannon Fodder’ to Defend Assad in Syrian Civil War

Afghan National Army
AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

A “disproportionally high” number, at least 656, of Iranian-recruited Shiites from Afghanistan have been killed while fighting for dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria since the six-year war started there, reports Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

The Islamic Republic has sent thousands of Shiites from within its own borders as well as neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan to join forces loyal to Assad in Syria.

According to some news reports, Iran has recruited Afghan migrants and refugees who are sometimes paid or even forced to risk their lives for the Syrian dictator, who remains backed by both Tehran and Moscow.

State-controlled news agencies in Iran, citing government Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs, reported in November 2016 that the number of Iranian-recruited Shiites killed in Syria had surpassed 1,000, many of them Afghans.

At the time, Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which recruits and trains the Shiite forces, nearly commanded 25,000 troops in Syria, most of them Shiites from Afghanistan and Pakistan, revealed Avi Dichter, the former head of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency who currently chairs the country’s foreign affairs and defense committee.

The IRGC considers the Afghan fighters “cannon fodder,” RFE/RL learned from Ali Alfoneh, a nonresident senior fellow and leading IRGC expert at the Washington, D.C.-based Atlantic Council think tank.

RFE/RL reports:

Iran has recruited thousands of Afghan migrants and refugees within its own borders. There is also evidence of Tehran covertly recruiting hundreds of Afghan [Shiite] inside Afghanistan. Afghanistan is majority Sunni, but 15 percent of its population, mainly Hazaras, are Shi’ite with religious links to Shi’ite-majority Iran.

Alfoneh says, based on the number of funerals held for Afghan fighters in Iran, at least 656 Afghans have been killed in combat in Syria since September 2013, a figure he says is “disproportionately high.”

The “poorly trained” Iranian proxy force (Fatemiyoun Division) predominantly made up of Afghan migrants and refugees is used as the first line of attack, points out RFE/RL, adding that “the Fatemiyoun Division has suffered a high rate of attrition, observers say, with coffins of fallen soldiers paraded and buried in Iranian cities almost every week.”

“To foster morale and lure new recruits to Fatemiyoun, Tehran is seeking to burnish the image of the beleaguered group—comprising mainly Afghan refugees from the Hazara Shi’ite minority recruited and trained by Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC),” it adds.

The Afghan Shiites are used to complement other Iranian forces fighting on behalf of Assad.

In September 2016, Fox News reported that up to 3,000 Iranian-backed fighters, including members of the Lebanese-based narco-terrorist group Hezbollah and the IRGC, had joined the Assad troops and their Russian allies in Syria.

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