PHOTO: A captured Afghan fighter in Syria, May 2015
Human Rights Watch confirms years of reports that Iran’s regime is sending thousands of undocumented Afghan immigrants to fight in Syria.
Interviewing more than two dozen Afghans about their recruitment, HRW said the men had been offered money and legal residence in Iran. Some said they or their relatives had been coerced into going to the battlefield, with Iranian officials threatening deportation.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards stepped up the recruitment in November 2013. It increased the effort last year, as the Syrian military came under pressure from rebel advances and manpower shortages. The Afghans have also been involved — along with Iranian commanders and troops, Hezbollah, and Iraqi and Pakistani fighters, and the Russian air force — in the Assad regime’s ground offensives across northwest Syria from October.
Scores of Afghans have been killed in the fighting since last autumn, along with official confirmation of almost 150 Iranian casualties, including eight commanders.
Iran hosts an estimated 3 million Afghans, but only 950,000 have formal legal status as refugees. Tehran has excluded many from asylum procedures.
The Afghan men said they were trained in military camps near Tehran and Shiraz in 2015. Based on their experience or information from others, they said Afghan militia led by Iranian commanders were fighting across Syria, including Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Deir ez-Zor, Hama, and Latakia province.
The men said Iranian commanders forced them to conduct dangerous military operations, such as advancing against well-entrenched Islamic State military positions with only light automatic weapons and without artillery support. In some instances, commanders threatened to shoot them if they failed to obey orders to advance under fire.