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September 22, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10221

As Part Of Iran's Ongoing Policy Of Deploying Its Afghan Shi'ite Militia Across Middle East, IRGC Reportedly Training Fatemiyoun Brigade In Drone Use In Syria

September 22, 2022
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 10221

On September 4, 2022, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Iran-backed Afghan Shi'ite militia, the Fatemiyoun Brigade, had begun training its fighters to operate drones at the airport at Palmyra in Syria.[1] The Syrian opposition website also noted that officials from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were training the militia.

For more than a decade, Iran has recruited thousands of Afghan nationals, who are typically poor and regularly cross the border into Iran in search of jobs, to fight in Syria and Iraq. In 2015, senior Afghan journalist Mirwais Afghan wrote several tweets explaining how Afghans were being recruited by Iran to fight in Syria.


Journalist Mirwais Afghan tweeted in 2015 about Iran's recruitment of Afghans to fight in Syria.

Some of Mirwais Afghan's tweets include: "Senior officials in Kabul confirm that Iranian embassy in Kabul is directly involved in sending Hazara Shias to Iran for military training;" "Afghan lawmaker claims Afghan airlines takes people (Shi'ites) from Kabul via Iran to Syria, Baghdad & Najaf [to] fight;"

"Mother of a [Shi'ite] Hazara tells BBC: 'My son went from Kabul to Iran for job seeking but Iran sent him 2 Syria, got killed;'" "So far, 100's of Afghan Hazaras who went to Iran for job seeking, have been sent to Syria by Iranian govt. to fight for Assad regime."[2]

He tweeted on June 26, 2015: "#Iran: Funeral prayer of 5 Afghan Hazaras & 4 Pakistani Shias killed fighting for Syrian regime."[3] In July 2015, he tweeted: "1,500 Shia Afghan Hazaras are fighting in #Syria under the banner of #FatimyunBrigade while 700 have been killed so far."[4]

Before 2014, it was known that Shi'ite Afghans were fighting for the Syrian regime as part of Liwa Abu Al-Fadhl Al-Abbas. It subsequently became clear that a new Iran-backed militia "Hizbullah Afghanistan" – comprising two brigades of Liwa Fatemiyoun and Liwa Khudam Al-Aqila – was established by the IRGC.[5]

Similarly, since 2015 MEMRI has reported that Iran was recruiting Afghan nationals to fight in its militias across the Middle East.[6] As early as 2016 the Iranian media were specifically describing the Al-Fatemiyoun Brigade as the Afghanistan branch of a "Shi'ite Liberation Army" deployed to three countries in the Middle East.[7]

On January 4, 2020, a day after a U.S. drone strike killed IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, the Pakistani Urdu newspaper Roznama Ummat, known for its support of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (i.e., the Afghan Taliban), reported: "Thousands of volunteers of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, who are trained by General Qassem Soleimani and who can undertake retaliatory action against American forces, are present in Afghanistan."[8]

Roznama Ummat, whose report was titled "Iranian General's Assassination Could Be Likely Avenged In Afghanistan," detailed: "The chief of Qods Force [i.e., Soleimani] played an important role in the Iran-Taliban understanding. The understanding was struck in 2011... Qassem Soleimani had not only played a role in arranging a meeting between the former Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and key officials of Iran, but he had become their interlocutor too."[9]

Noting that Soleimani had been seen many times in western Afghanistan, along the Iranian border, and once in the provinces of Nimruz and Herat, the Urdu daily stated: "In October last year [2019], a Taliban delegation also visited Iran. The delegation, under the leadership of Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi, had also held meetings with General Soleimani. The Taliban delegation had also met the spiritual leader of Iran Ali Khamenei, following which Taliban-Iran relations achieved new heights."[10]


The pro-Taliban Urdu daily warned that Soleimani could be avenged in Afghanistan

It appears that around this time, after meetings with the Afghan Taliban leaders, Soleimani strengthened the Fatemiyoun Brigade in Afghanistan. "Soleimani acquired great importance in Afghanistan because he established the Fatemiyoun Brigade comprising of Afghans volunteering for the protection of sacred places in Syria and Iraq. And its training was undertaken by the Qods Force under General Soleimani's monitoring," the Urdu daily noted.[11]

Apparently, Iran had reached some understanding with the Afghan Taliban to allow the training of the Fatemiyoun Brigade in Afghanistan. According to the report, the Fatemiyoun Brigade of Afghanistan fought the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and Soleimani had attended the funeral prayers of commanders who had fought in Syria, including "four of these commanders [who] belonged to Afghanistan."[12]

Iran's recruitment of thousands of Afghans to fight in Iraq and Syria went mostly unreported in the Afghan media. After Soleimani's killing, Afghan lawmaker Belquis Roshan posted a video to her social media account on January 4, 2020, in which, speaking in parliament, she said that as a representative of Afghans, she felt ashamed that former President Hamid Karzai had expressed sorrow for Soleimani's death. "It is clear to everybody that Soleimani was a man who committed numerous crimes in Afghanistan. He brought about the deaths of at least 5,500 young Afghans in the framework of the so-called Fatemiyoun Division in Syria. 1,200 men are still missing," she said.[13]


Then Afghan lawmaker Belquis Roshan said Soleimani had created Fatemiyoun Brigade

On November 21, 2017, soldiers of the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade wrote a letter congratulating Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei and Soleimani on the occasion of the reported eradication of the Islamic State (ISIS), stating:

"Dear and brave commander of the resistance, general with head held high, Hajj Qassem Soleimani,

"Greetings,

"Now, after six years, we have reached the end of the extremist terrorist group, thanks to your tireless presence in the arena of fighting and command, and thanks to the resistance of people from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Now, the world has been cleansed of the filth of this bloodthirsty [ISIS], that enjoyed the support of Global Arrogance.

"For these six years, the Fatemiyoun Division has obeyed the Leader [Khamenei] under your command. It was in the various arenas of the fighting and fought the takfiri terror elements as a brother in arms of the brave people of the resistance axis. We were present in the harshest arenas of this sacred fighting, and therefore we see ourselves obligated to congratulate the leader, you, and the oppressed Muslim people everywhere in the world on the occasion of this sweet victory and enormous success...

"Thanks to the command of the Leader and your excellent insight, the men of Afghanistan have entered the arena of the resistance, and they are sworn together with their dear commander not to stop their activity until global Zionism is destroyed.

"Now, after Syria has been completely purged of the pollution of the takfiri terror elements... we are ready to [continue] to obey dear Leader Khamenei and [to be] under your command and to aid the oppressed in every corner of the world and every place the voice of any oppressed is heard.

"Signed, the commanders and soldiers of the Fatemiyoun Division."[14]

In July 2022, it was reported that "around 40 operatives of the Fatemiyoun Brigade arrived with a cache of weapons to the Al-Talila area – east of the city of Palmyra" and were trained in the use of drone by Lebanese Hizbullah, which is also backed by Iran and had brought "Iran-made training drones."[15] The September 4 report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirms that Iran continues to develop its long-established practice of recruiting Afghans for deployment in the Middle East.

 

[5] MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1157, Iran Tightens Its Grip On Syria Using Syrian And Foreign Forces, May 4, 2015.

[6] MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1157, Iran Tightens Its Grip On Syria Using Syrian And Foreign Forces, May 4, 2015.

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