Iran exploits ‘on the breadline’ Afghans for recruitment
A Free Syrian Army fighter captured by Shia soldiers supporting Assad. (Reuters)
Date: 2016-07-01 13:18
Many exposés were made recently on Iran recruiting Afghani refugees located near borders, using them as pawns that are later deployed to join the ranks of militants supporting Assad’s regime, drawing them out of their own conflict-ridden country and into another war in which Afghanistan plays no official part.
What is more is that updates reveal that recruitment had made its way beyond borders and entered Afghani towns.
In an investigatory report published by the Guardian, the newspaper said that the Afghan recruits are often impoverished, religiously devout or ostracized from society, looking for money, social acceptance and a sense of purpose that they are unable to find at home.
Iran denies using “any kind of allurement or coercion,” or recruiting Afghans to fight in Syria, according to an embassy spokesman in Kabul. But the Guardian investigation can reveal both how Iran persuades Afghan men into war, and the motives that prompt these men to travel thousands of miles to join a battle they might not return from.
Jawad, the agent promoting and linking new recruits, said that most of those getting signed up to leave to Syria are either in deep financial need or influenced by extreme impressions of religious callings.
Jawad, who is chief broker to recruitment, manages the network bringing in new recruits and introducing them at the Iranian embassy in Kabul. Most of the finalized processing happens at a dubious travel agency which has no official signboard.
For a year, Jawad worked for the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on establishing Afghan militia units that later came to be known as “Liwa Fatemiyoun” also known as the Fatemiyoun Brigade. The group was fully established and deployed to Syria in 2014 and is chiefly comprised of Afghani Shiites.
In return for fighting, Afghans are offered a residence permit in Iran and about US $ 500 monthly salary. “Most go to Syria for the money,” said Jawad. “Others go to defend the shrine.”
Once in Syria, Afghans are often in the first line of offensive action. “The Iranians use Afghans as human shields,” Jawad explained.
Asharq Al-Awsat reported that there was no specific number given as to how many Afghans were recruited and effectively sent to fight in Syria, however, reports estimate the scores of IRGC-trained Afghans fighting on Syrian grounds to be somewhere around 20,000 militants.
According to Amir Toumaj, a researcher with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Fatemiyoun was recently upgraded from a brigade to a division, which normally numbers over 10,000.
Assessing the number of Afghan fighters is complicated further by the fact that casualties’ bodies are rarely returned home for burial. In addition, some pretend they are moving to Iran, before disappearing.
Some Afghan politicians have tried to intervene. Nazir Ahmadzai, an MP who has tracked recruitment of Afghan combatants, said Iran was stoking ethnic tension between Sunnis and Shias, in order to assert control in Afghanistan.
“Iran’s policy is to bring division between Muslims. They want Afghanistan to become like Syria,” he said, adding that he had seen a list of at least 1,800 Afghans recruited in Kabul alone. Analysts, though, like Alfoneh, rejected that estimate as too high.
Although the Iranian embassy in Kabul denied involvement, a Syrian opposition leader fighting the Fatemiyoun recently urged the Afghan government to stop the flow of fighters traveling to Syria.