JEDDAH: Iran has shown that it will resort to any tool to prop up the Assad regime, including the increasing recruitment of Afghan men and children to fight in Syria, Iranian-American political scientist Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News on Saturday.
He was reacting to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report that more than 2,000 Afghans deployed by Iran have been killed fighting in Syria for the Assad regime.
The Fatemiyoun Brigade of Afghan recruits has been fighting in Syria for five years, Zohair Mojahed, a cultural official in the volunteer force, told Iranian media.
Rafizadeh said two Iranian organizations are behind the recruitment: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite Quds Force.
“The Iranian regime preys on vulnerable people such as immigrant or poor families,” he said, adding that Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently described Tehran’s recruitment of Afghan children as “a grave violation of international law.”
Mojahed told Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper that the Fatemiyoun Brigade “has given more than 2,000 martyrs and 8,000 wounded for Islam.”
His description of mercenaries as “martyrs” drew a sharp rebuke from Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi, who told Arab News that they are Iran’s “hired guns” who did not die for Islam.
“These Afghans are originally refugees in Iran. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, they took refuge in Iran and they’re being sent to Syria by Tehran to kill Syrians,” Al-Aridi said, adding that Islam is not a religion of violence, as is being wrongly portrayed by Mojahed.
“They died to implement vicious and cunning Iranian plots. Those mercenaries are killed by Syrians who are defending themselves, their land and their children,” Al-Aridi said.
Iran takes them to Syria and puts them on the frontline in order to invade Syrian territory and kill Syrians, he added.
“Many of them were captured by Syrian freedom fighters, and they confessed to being paid by Iran $200 to $500 for their families in Afghanistan,” he said. “Iran doesn’t care whether they’re killed or stay alive.”