The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has again begun recruiting Afghan migrants and refugees to be sent to Lebanon for military training, IranWire’s sources have said.
The Islamic Republic has a long track record of training proxy forces, from Iranians to Iraqis to Afghans, at military bases in the Beqaa Governorate to the northeast. In the past few months, the IRGC has been sending Afghan nationals who arrived in Iran as refugees to undergo training at its Lebanese bases on behalf of the Fatemiyoun Brigade.
The dimensions of this new operation are not yet known. Meanwhile, other ex-members of the Fatemiyoun who returned from fighting in Syria under the direction of the IRGC’s Quds Force have faced a double threat to their lives, both from Afghan government agencies and terrorist groups such as ISIS and the Taliban.
It is also not clear what the new recruits are being trained for. But with the situation in Afghanistan rapidly deteriorating, the Islamic Republic appears to be seeking to expand its military and paramilitary presence on the borders.
An expert with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be named, told IranWire: “The Islamic Republic has been training Iranians, Iraqis and Afghans at bases in Beqaa for years. It uses these forces in the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, but of course, since the Islamic Republic and Hezbollah in Lebanon also anticipate a major war with Israel, they are preparing here for any eventuality."
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Mohammad, an Afghan citizen who came to Iran for a construction job four years ago, recently signed up to the Fatemiyoun Brigade and was told that he and a number of other compatriots would be sent to Lebanon. "A member of the IRGC told me that some people were going there and he could arrange for me to go too if I wanted to,” he said.
“He then told me to hand over a copy of my ID, with six photographs, so that the necessary steps could be taken. He also told me that many Afghan volunteers had registered to defend Muslims in case the infidels attack Lebanon."
Like other Afghans in Iran, Mohammad was promised a monthly salary of US$500 and an Iranian residency permit if he joined. This would allow him to move freely between Iranian cities and find more stable work.
The same two incentives were offered to other Afghans in the Fatemiyoun who have since complained bitterly of receiving neither. Some were also told that if they died in Syria, their families would receive the “permanent support” of the Islamic Republic, a house in Iran and a 10-year residence permit.
But the Iranian regime has never announced the number of Afghans killed under its banner in Syria. There is no evidence of this material support having been extended to bereaved Afghan families; in fact, many of the families do not even know where their loved ones were buried. Thousands of other Fatemiyoun fighters were forced to return home and live an underground life on being refused an Iranian residency card.
Mohammad is not convinced he will receive a residency permit either. But the $500 monthly stipend convinced him to take the potentially lethal gamble. "The work situation in Iran is not good,” he said, “and everything has become expensive. We can’t save anything; we came to Iran to work and send money back to our families, but we spend any income we get.”
Afghan migrants are also exploited by unscrupulous bosses in Iran, he said. “When we work on a building site, the owner pays the workers at first. But after a while they stop, and only cover bread and ‘pocket money’. We’re promised that we’ll be paid all at once when we finish, but when we do, they berate us and say that their hands are empty.”
The sinking exchange rate of the toman against the Afghani, eye-watering inflation, crooked employers, insecurity and the constant fear of being deported have driven thousands of other Afghans like Mohammad to sign up for Iran’s proxy wars over the past decade. Registration for the new Lebanon-bound recruits paused during the June presidential election, but the Afghans who recently signed up have been told they will be contacted soon. Iran’s new president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, has close ties to Lebanese Hezbollah, meaning the current recruitment drive is unlikely to slow down any time soon.
There is no definitive figure for the number of Afghans who have been killed in Syria while fighting for the Islamic Republic. An official report by the Iranian government said 2,000 had died in the conflict by 2018. But this figure has been widely disputed, including by the Afghan government, which says the true number of Fatemiyoun casualties will be far greater.