More than two thousand Afghans deployed by the Islamic Republic to fight in the Syrian civil war in support of Bashar al-Assad have been killed, a commander responsible for the so-called “Fatemiyoon Division” disclosed, Friday, January 5.
The division is an Afghan Shi’ite militia launched in 2014 to fight in Syria on the side of the government.
It is funded, trained, and equipped by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and operates under the command of Iranian officers. However, the group has denied direct Iranian government involvement in its activities. According to late deputy commander Sayed Hakim, the group numbers between 12,000-14,000 fighters.
The IRGC insists that all members of the Division, officially known as “Defenders of the Holy Shrine [a shrine in Syria attributed to Zeinab, sister of Hussain ibn Ali, Shi’ites third Imam] are Afghan Shi’ite volunteers.
In “First Memorial for Afghan Martyrs”, an official responsible for the Division’s cultural affairs, Zuhair Mujahid disclosed, “More than two thousand fighters of the division have been killed and eight thousand more wounded in different military operations in Syria”.
It is a rare incident in the Islamic Republic to publicly announce the number of casualties of forces Tehran sends for extraterritorial military operations.
Meanwhile, Tehran has always denied sending professional military men to fight in Syria. However, it is well documented that Fatemiyoon Division personnel practically operate as the Islamic Republic’s mercenaries since its members are paid by the IRGC.
Fatemiyoon Division is reportedly the largest military formation that Tehran has sent to fight in Syria and Iraq.
Furthermore, the IRGC has formed another military unit, Liwa Zainabiyoon (literally meaning Followers of Zainab’s Banner) or Zainabiyoon Division, comprised of Pakistani Shi’ites financed by Tehran.
Earlier, Radio Farda had reported that more than fifteen Shi’ite militia groups are involved in Syrian civil war as the Islamic Republic’s proxies.
Tehran has committed itself to grant citizenship or residential permits to the family members of non-Iranian Shi’ites killed in its extraterritorial military operations, including in Syria and Iraq.
The Wall Street Journal also reported last year that Tehran pays $500 monthly salary to thousands of Afghan refugees living in Iran to recruit them to fight in Syria, defending Bashar al-Assad’s regime. In a report in 2016, AFP put the monthly salary of Afghans as high as $900 monthly. Furthermore, those conscripted are granted permanent residency in Iran.
The IRGC-run news agency, “Defa’ Press” (Defense Press) had earlier reported that Fatemiyoon Brigade was expanded into a Division in 2015 to increase its military operation capability.
“Afghan Mujahidin who were serving in Sepah-i Muhammad to fight Taliban in frontlines, along with members of Abuzar Regiment who fought in favor of Tehran during the eight-year war between Iran-Iraq, formed the main core of Afghan Defenders of the holy Shrine, or Zeinabiyoon Division.
Colonel Hussain Kenani Moghdam of the IRGC has told Al Jazeera: "Fatemiyoon … numbering in the tens of thousands; most of its fighters are already trained in Afghanistan and those that have no training get trained in Afghanistan, and enter into Syria through Iraq or Lebanon."
Furthermore, Al Jazeera has cited Anas al-Abdah, the secretary of the opposition Syrian Coalition's political committee, as saying, "This is part of the main mission of the Iranian regime in terms of exporting its revolution. Iran recruits, motivates, organizes, finances, and trains Shias from all over the world to help support Bashar al-Assad's regime [saving it] from collapse."
According to the division’s cultural spokesman, nearly three thousand Afghan forces under Tehran’s command were killed in eight years of war between Saddam Hussain and ayatollah Khomeini’s armies.
London based Syrian Human Rights Watch declared last months that more than 340,000 have been killed in Syrian civil war since it started in 2011.