The funeral procession of an Afghan recently killed in fighting in Syria attended by Qom Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders.
Iran has been accused of recruiting and sending Afghanistan’s Shia Muslims to fight alongside the Assad regime in war-torn Syria. Afghan migrants say they are being trained and deployed by the country’s notorious Revolutionary Guards.
Iranian, Afghan and international media outlets have reported on this influx of Afghan migrants to Syria for several months. Several have also published photos of funeral processions of Afghan Shia “martyrs” in different cities across Iran: from Qom, to Mashhad, and Isfahan, the men are buried in ceremonies that are reportedly attended by local Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders.
FRANCE 24 has spoken to one Observer who accuses Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of offering incentives to Afghan migrants based in the country to encourage them to fight for the Syrian regime. Afghan politicians have reportedly condemned the allegations, accusing Iran of exploiting the poverty of a migrant population that numbers some four million. Afghan authorities and the country’s embassy in Tehran are promising to investigate.
Two of our Observers based in Afghanistan told FRANCE 24 they can corroborate these reports, saying the deployment of young Afghan Shia fighters is “no secret.”
“They were told that their families would receive permanent residency in Iran if they were killed in Syria”
Ahmad – who lives in Afghanistan – says two of his family members have been sent to Syria. He’s been able to keep in touch with them sporadically.
Both of them [Ahmad’s family members] fled to Iran a few years ago to escape poverty and unemployment. About 11 months ago – having been offered incentives – they went to Syria to defend the mausoleum of Hazrat Zeynab.
The Revolutionary Guard offered them 1.5 million toman [equivalent to 430 Euros or 585 US Dollars. The Wall Street Journal reports that refugees were offered 500 US Dollars] in monthly payments, a six-month residency permit for all family members and – on condition that they stayed to fight in Syria for more than six months – even long-term residency in Iran for family members. That includes parents, siblings and wife for those who are married. They were told that their families would receive 15 million toman and permanent residency in Iran if they were killed in Syria.
The offer of a residency permit for their families became one of the most important factors motivating my relatives’ decision to go to Syria. Whenever I tried to dissuade them they would reply that their cause was holy and accused me of not being religious enough.
They both received military training in Iran for a few months before they were sent to Syria. One told me he and 80 other Afghan fighters had received training and fought alongside Hezbollah [the Lebanese group] for a while in Syria. He once told me about an operation in which four of his friends were killed near Damascus. The Syrian government gave them 170 dollars each [125 Euros] as a reward for the success of that operation.
In addition to initial reports that accuse Iran of searching among Afghan refugees for potential recruits, FRANCE 24 spoke to one Observer who claims that Shia clerics in Afghanistan are also playing a hand in persuading young men to fight. He says Iran’s Revolutionary Guards help the Shia youths find safe passage to Syria.
“They tell them to defend the sacred Shia mausoleums in Syria”
Vafa lives in the town of Herat in Afghanistan. When a group of youths from his neighbourhood took the decision to go to Syria, he managed to talk them out of it.
There are some Afghan Shia clerics who – not publicly or in their sermons at the mosque – but in small gatherings encourage Shia youths to go to Syria. They tell them to defend the sacred Shia mausoleums in Syria and fight what they call the enemies of Ali [the first Shia Imam]. The only thing they publicly state in their sermons is that Shia Islam is in danger.
Those who went to fight were promised that their families would be allowed to live in Iran if they fought for six months in Syria. My acquaintances were almost recruited by a Shia cleric. They were only 18 years old. This happened in Herat where I live, but I know other youths were recruited from cities such as the capital, Kabul, Balkh, Sarpol, Samangan as well as Faryab and Nimrooz in Afghanistan.
According to several Afghan journalists, large groups of Afghans are already fighting on both sides of the Syrian conflict. Whilst President Assad’s regime is dominated by Shia Muslims, the majority of rebels fighting to overthrow it are Sunni. In Afghanistan, where the overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim, only 19% belong to the Shia branch of Islam. Like Syria, the majority of Afghanistan’s Muslims are Sunni.