Iran is secretly recruiting Afghans by the hundreds to fight on behalf of ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Guardian reported on Thursday, as the Islamic Republic attempts to shore up the Shi’ite axis comprised of Assad’s regime and Hezbollah in Syria’s complex civil war.
Recruiters target Afghans who live in poverty, are religious, or are outcasts, according to the report. Iran denies using “any kind of allurement or coercion”, or to otherwise recruiting Afghans to fight in Syria, according to an embassy spokesman in Kabul. But a Guardian investigation can reveal both how Iran coaxes 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.
The newspaper’s investigation revealed a recruiting method involving middlemen who receive commissions for finding volunteers. Recruiting was also reportedly done in mosques in Afghan cities where recruits are offered an Iranian residence permanent and a monthly salary of some $500. Some are motivated by the money or a desire to prove themselves – and some because Syria contains many sites holy to Shi’ites, particularly the Sayyidah Zaynab mosque in Damascus.
A new Iranian law allows the government to give citizenship to families of Afghans killed while fighting in Syria, providing another incentive for recruits. The lack of official numbers means that it is difficult to ascertain how many Afghans are fighting in Syria. Iranian state media does not acknowledge direct Iranian involvement, but say some 20,000 Afghans are fighting in Syria.
Others, such as Ali Alfoneh, an independent Iran analyst based in Washington, DC, think this number is greatly exaggerated, with the true figure being closer to a couple of thousand. Alfoneh also said that having an Afghan militia could also help Iran to train locals to fight Sunni groups in Afghanistan after the US withdraws from that country. 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.
Iran has no problem enticing these poor Afghani men with promises of money to help their friend al-Assad in his fight against Islamic State and the Syrian civil war as it alleviates their need to place their men of the IRGC directly in harms way. This is just another example of how this Iranian hardliner regime truly views others – these Afghan men are of a lesser value than Iran’s IRGC, so let them go to die instead of theirs. Is Iran exploiting poor Afghan men to fight in al-Assad’s war? Sound off in the comments below.