Home Asian News Iran's Afghan Crusades in Syria - The Diplomat

Iran’s Afghan Crusades in Syria – The Diplomat


The Iranian regime has long used Islamic groups as a proxy to advance its goals in the Middle East. Its infamous sponsorship of Hezbollah Lebanon and Hamas Palestine, for example, since the 1980s, is well documented. Less well known, however, is Tehran’s recent spiral proxy war with the establishment of a transnational network of Shia militant groups, deployed to confront its opponents on multiple frontiers. battlefields in the larger area. The Fatemiyoun Army is one of these newer proxies, comprising all of Afghanistan’s Shia militants, deployed to protect Iran’s interests in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. This new, transnational aspect of Iran’s traditional proxy war could have broad regional implications, threatening the interests of the United States, as well as its allies, across the Middle East and South Asia. .

I started tracking Fatemiyoun in early 2015 as part of my portfolio at the Afghan National Security Council, even though the group was formed two years earlier amid sweeping violent upheavals. through the Middle East after “Arab Spring”. In response to the turmoil in the region, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, responsible for extraordinary warfare and military intelligence, has formed four new Shia militant groups – Fatemiyoun, Zainabiyoun , Aliyoun and Haidariyoun – are named after members of the Prophet Mohammad family, and include militants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, respectively. All fought on various battlefields in the Middle East, but Fatemiyoun became the largest and most formidable force, backing Tehran’s ally Bashar al-Assad in the war in Syria and later. Houthis in Yemen.

Fatemiyoun’s origins follow the trail of the now defunct “Mohammad Corp” and “Abuzar Division”, both Afghan Shia militant groups. authorized by Iran fought in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and then against the Taliban in the 90s. A handful of veterans from these groups, led by Ali Reza Tavassoli, forming the core of Fatemiyoun in 2013, from which the Quds Force has amassed an army of more 20,000 militia in the next three years. The militants, mainly recruited from the Shia Afghan refugees in Iran, were drawn to the task “Protect the temple of the Prophet’s nieces in Damascus.” Besides religious stimulation, Quds Force also offers a range of material incentives, including legal residency, for kids to go to school for free, health insurance, monthly payments up to 1,500 dollars, and social status in return. Some even to force engage with threats of arrest and deportation if they refuse. Most of the approximately 3 million Afghan refugees in Iran live a precarious life, driven on the one hand by the extremely difficult economy and on the other by harsh xenophobic discrimination, prompting incentives. that becomes extremely attractive.

As hostilities increased in Syria, the Quds Force began to approach the Shia Hazara inside Afghanistan likewise, establishing recruitment networks in many provinces, including the capital Kabul. The recruiters have been transported under the guise of pilgrimages to shrines in Syria and Iraq, using travel agencies with close ties to Embassy of Iran in Kabul. Upon arrival in Iran, the recruits will undergo a week of training in tactical guerrilla maneuvers and basic weapon handling, completely confidential by the Quds Force. The men were then transported to Syria, rushed to the Zainab bint Ali temple for a quick visit, and then immediately deployed to the battlefields. Considered “forage”, the Fatemiyoun warriors were sent to a number the most difficult fronts, including Latakia, Hama, Idlib, Aleppo, Damascus and Daraa, resulting in excessive casualties. Estimates show that between 2013 and 2019, more than 50,000 Fatemiyoun fighters who fought in the Middle East, suffered from incredible casualties the rate of over 5,000 people died and 4,000 people were injured. The dead include the original leader of the group, Ali Reza Tavassoli, and several of his successors.

With the war in Syria dwindling, some of these fighters have been deployed to Yemen to support Iran’s Houthi ally, some to return to Iran, and many to move to Afghanistan. The Quds Force, however, keeps an active part of the approx 8,000 Fatemiyoun militants in Syria, and maintain contact with those in Afghanistan. Faced with constant Sunni attacks, as well as the growing possibility of the Taliban returning to power, the Afghan Shia feel extremely vulnerable, ensuring the arrival of Fatemiyoun as a force. Shia protection.

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Recent events, albeit to a small extent, confirm this prediction: Last month, for example, militias belonging to a local Hazara commander, Ali Pur, who is believed to be affiliated with Fatemiyoun, shot take down an Afghan army helicopters, resulting in the death of nine security guards and the army’s bloody retaliation. Two weeks later, another group of Hazara Shias, believed to be the first active face of Fatemiyoun in Afghanistan, announced the creation of a military division to “protect the Shias against widespread attack and systematic discrimination ”in central Afghanistan. This is just the tip of a large iceberg that could emerge as ethnic and sectarian tensions between Afghans are growing in the face of an imminent US withdrawal.

However, the problem did not end with Afghanistan. Fatemiyoun but is one of many actors in Iran’s new network of transnational Shia groups operating on the “Shia militarism” ideology in a conflict zone. As a self-proclaimed guardian of the Shia Islam, the Iranian regime faces a variety of adversaries, including the Sunni Gulf states, Israel, and of course, the United States. Faced with this alleged “existential threat”, Iran seeks to use any and all measures to ensure survival and advance its interests. Loyal proxies, such as the Fatemiyoun Army, provide Tehran with a cost-effective means of confronting a stronger enemy and exert considerable leverage over regional affairs. Most security agencies, including the Afghan government agencies I serve, have therefore underestimated the importance of the group. But my 5-year close research on the group leads me to believe that Fatemiyoun is poised to become the second Hezbollah in Tehran’s proxy arsenal.

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