Human Rights Watch has updated on Iran’s recruitment, training, and deployment of Afghans to fight for the Assad regime in Syria, documenting the involvement of teenagers as young as 14.
Iran began the recruitment soon after it stepped up its essential military support of Assad in autumn 2012, eventually bringing thousands of Afghans for foreign militias to support Assad’s army and paramilitary forces. The Revolutionary Guards use a combination of enticement and threat to enlist the men and teenagers, promising money but also threatening deportation from Iran and harassment of families if the prospective recruits do not comply.
The Revolutionary Guards have never published official information on the size of the Fatemiyoun, but a report in the conservative Tasnim News said it has about 14,000 fighters. The draftees have often been used as “shock troops” on the frontlines of offensives, absorbing the initial blows of enemy forces.
HRW’s report on Sunday details the deaths of eight Afghan teenagers who fought in Syria, based on photographs of tombstones in Iranian cemeteries and interviews with family members and with Afghan fighters. Five are buried in the Martyr’s Section of Tehran’s Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery and one each in Alborz, Tehran, and Isfahan Provinces.
In seven of the eight cases, tombstones referred to the teenager as a “defender of the shrine”, the euphemism used by the Iranian regime to describe its troops and foreign militias in Syria.
Domestic media reports indicate that at least six more under-18 “defenders of the shrine” from the Fatemiyoun division are buried across the country.