DAMASCUS/TEHRAN – An officer of Afghan National Security Forces has reportedly been held by rebels in war-torn Syria who are fighting against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
In a video circulating on social media, the ANSF officer from Mazar e-Sharif says he and thousands of other Afghan officials have been sent in Syria through Iran to fight against the rebels.
— Asfandyar Bhittani (@BhittaniKhannnn) December 6, 2016
Earlier this week, Afghan officials said more than 1,000 Afghan combatants, who have been fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and are affiliated to the so-called Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG), were reportedly killed in Syria.
On Dec 2, the National Radio Television of Afghanistan (RTA) reported that the number of Afghan martyrs, who were sent from Iran to fight alongside Assad’s army, has passed 1,000.
The report added that Iran had promised Afghans that they would be granted a residence permit and about $500 monthly salary in return for fighting in Syria. Iran later denied using “any kind of allurement or coercion”.
Syrian government forces have relied heavily on foreign militias since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. Iran and Russia have been staunch allies, with Russian bombers taking on a bulk of the aerial campaign and Iran providing ground forces.
Elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces, along with Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and Afghan and Pakistan fighters, have fought alongside Syrian troops. In parts of Damascus and Homs provinces, Iranian-led troops have been the primary forces against rebels.
In May, Iran’s parliament passed a law allowing the government to grant citizenship to families of foreigners slain while fighting for the Islamic republic. This could also apply to volunteers from Afghanistan and Pakistan who are fighting in Syria and Iraq against Daesh.
The law is likely an attempt to encourage Afghans to take on more risky missions and attract recruits.
Iran has been recruiting hundreds of Afghan and Pakistani Shias who are affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards with the aim of sending them to fight in support to the Syrian army.
When fighters from Iran die in the Syrian War, they are hailed as martyrs by Iranian authorities. “The country owes much to them,” stressed the director of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs, Mohammad-Ali Shahidi.
Al Shahidi also officially announced that over 1,000 fighters from Iran have fallen in the Syrian Civil War. “They are soldiers in the Fatemiyon division, now revered as defenders of holy sites.”
Iran views the Sayyidah Zaynab shrine in Damascus, dedicated to the granddaughter of the prophet Muhammad, as an important place of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims.
The army division named after Fatemiyon, the daughter of the Prophet (PBUH), is mostly made up of Afghan fighters. Fatemiyon belongs to the Iranian Quds Force, the elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that is deployed in special operations outside Iran.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, about three million Afghans are currently living in Iran. Nearly a million of them are registered refugees. Almost 500,000 of them are immigrants with temporary residence and restricted work permits. The other one and half million have no documents and are considered to be illegal immigrants.
They do not trust the authorities. They fear that they will be sent back or be put in a refugee camp. They go into hiding and are treated as second-class human beings, often subject to exploitation.
When eligible Afghan men sign up for combat in Syria, they are paid almost 500 US dollars a month, according to the refugees. They are promised basic schooling or a university education and better living conditions for their families.