The Iranian newspaper Jomhouri Islami on Monday revealed that a pro-Iran militia has been set up in Afghanistan. The revelation coincides with the ongoing U.S. withdrawal of troops from the country and bodes ill for its security and stability. According to the paper, the new group is called, oddly using Arabic, “Hashd Al-Shi’i” (Shiite Mobilization). It did not use a Farsi, Dari or Pashtun name, but curiously borrowed from the Arabic name of Iraq’s umbrella outfit, Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi, for a number of militias. It is also curious that it explicitly used the word for the Shiite sect in the name of the group; something that Tehran has carefully avoided in the past. The newspaper is a conservative mouthpiece, founded by Ali Khamenei in 1979.
Iran sees the U.S. withdrawal of troops as an opportunity to expand its influence in Afghanistan, using a security vacuum in the country to expand its military footprint eastward. In April, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif welcomed the planned US withdrawal, describing it as a “positive move,” making Iran one of the few entities to welcome the premature departure. However, Zarif also warned against the resulting “vacuum” and a “new war in Afghanistan.”
Initially, Iran’s intervention in Afghanistan — or the export of its revolution to the country — mainly took the form of recruiting Afghans from within Afghanistan and, significantly, from the Afghan refugee community in Iran to help turn the tide in the 1980-88 war against Iraq. About 3,000 Afghan fighters were killed in that war. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force was assigned the task of exporting the revolution and training the foreign recruits. After the end of the Iraq war in 1988, the Afghan fighters were decommissioned, sent back to Afghanistan or later mobilized for the new fronts Iran opened in Iraq and Syria.
The newly announced group is probably a cover for the Fatemiyoun Brigade terrorist outfit and could be used to spearhead any Iranian offensive into Afghanistan, similar to its role in Syria, for example.