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Iran Aims To Boost Prestige Of Beleaguered Afghan Proxy Force In Syria

A funeral is held in the Iranian city of Mashhad for four Afghan refugees who were killed in action in Syria. (file photo)

Iran has sent thousands of Afghan Shi'a to the battlefields of Syria, catapulting them to the front lines of President Bashar al-Assad and his allies' brutal six-year war against armed rebels, some of them foreign-backed, and Islamist extremists.

As the first line of attack, the poorly trained proxy force made up of mainly Afghan migrants and refugees known as 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).

Iranian authorities have renamed streets to honor the Afghan Shi'ite fighters, state media have glorified fallen fighters and highlighted their sacrifices while likening them to martyrs, and the group is frequently visited by General Qassem Soleimani, the influential, media-savvy head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force, which is responsible for operations outside of Iran's own borders.

Footage aired by Qatar-based television network Al-Jazeera in June showed footage of Soleimani, who is overseeing Iran's war effort in Syria, praying and addressing the Afghan fighters near the Syria-Iraq border.

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