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Zarif’s Lies To Whitewash the Scandal Over Using Afghan Refugees in Iran as Cannon Fodder in the War in Syria

Qassem Soleimani, along with members of the Fatemiyoun troops (a Shiite militia affiliated with the Quds Force of Afghanistan) in Syria
Qassem Soleimani, along with members of the Fatemiyoun troops (a Shiite militia affiliated with the Quds Force of Afghanistan) in Syria

On Thursday, December 24, Afghanistan’s Tolonews Television station broadcast an interview with the Iranian regime’s foreign minister Javad Zarif. The interviewer questioned him about the forced dispatch of Afghan refugees in Iran to Syria, where hundreds of them have been killed. The Q and A laid bare Tehran’s terrorist meddling in Syria, which has victimized Afghan refugees, among others.

Zarif also tried to downplay the extent of Afghan refugees’ dispatch to Syria by prevaricating about their numbers. When asked whether it was true that 25,000 Afghan refugees were in Syria, Zarif deceitfully said he had heard there were only 5,000 of whom less than 2,000 were currently in Syria.

The interviewer pressed further, asking Zarif, “Why do you send, Mr. Minister, Afghan to the Syrian War? Where in the world do they provide weapons to refugees and facilitate their participation in war?”

Zarif brazenly replied, “They went to fight for their beliefs. Some of them erected Afghanistan’s flag in their outposts. They are the best forces with a military background in the fight against Daesh if the Afghan government, if willing, can regroup them.”

Obviously skeptical of Zarif’s demagogic response, the interviewer followed up: “You had earlier said you are an international relations expert. Where in the world have you seen (a government) recruiting refugees and sending them to a third country (to fight a proxy war)?

Even a more ridiculous response by Zarif: “First of all, most of them were not refugees. They came from Afghanistan and went there. Perhaps, they might have gone to other places too.” The interviewer presses on: “Interviewer: “So, if I want to take up arms, will you send me to Syria?” Surprised by the question, a desperate Zarif hangs himself with his own shoelaces: “We may arm you when you end up in Syria.”

Multitudes of reports by human rights organizations and news agencies about the forcible dispatch of Afghan men, some as young as 12, to the Syrian war fronts belie Zarif’s utterly false remarks.

“Iran has not just offered Afghan refugees and migrants incentives to fight in Syria, but several said they were threatened with deportation back to Afghanistan unless they did,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “Faced with this bleak choice, some of these Afghan men and boys fled Iran for Europe.” (HRW official website, January 29, 2016)

On April 2020, Parviz Fattah, head of the Bonyad Mostazafan financial foundation, in an acknowledged that Qassem Soleimani the eliminated commander of the terrorism Quds force had asked him money to pay the salaries of Fatemiyoun. Fattah, who also was a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), in an interview with the state-run Ofogh (Horizon) TV in April 2020 said: “I was at the IRGC Cooperative Foundation. Haj Qassem [IRGC-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani] came and told me he did not have money to pay the salaries of the Fatemiyoun. He said that these are our Afghan brothers, and he asked for help from people like us.”

How Khamenei-linked foundation funds Iran's terror group Fatemiyoun in Syria

In a report in December 2017, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, citing dozens of sources of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) inside Iraq, revealed the detail of utilizing Afghan refugees in the Syrian war to massacre the people and the revolutionaries in that country.

The report said in part, “The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps cannot send Iranian troops or members of the Basij militia to Syria. There is strong public opposition to intervention in Syria. Thus, the regime has taken advantage of the poor people of Afghanistan to advance the war in Syria.

“In recent years, there have been various reports about the deployment of Afghans by the Iranian regime to Syria to carry out its vicious goals in support of Syrian dictatorship. This report provides a comprehensive picture of the mobilization, training centers, places for the deployment of Afghans in Syria, the number of casualties, and their situation after returning from Syria. It also identifies some of the main members of the Iranian regime involved in this project.”

The report clearly shows that, contrary to the claims of the regime, there are essentially no voluntary elements in this regard, and the IRGC is carrying the deployment of Afghan forces to Syria from the start to the end through the use of all state facilities of the Iranian regime.

Among the foreign troops, the most cost‐effective army is Afghans. The number of Afghan citizens living in Iran is estimated at around 3 million. At the beginning of the Syrian war, the IRGC started dispatching Iran‐settled Afghans to the Syrian war. Now, they have become a military division with about 15,000 to 20,000 troops called Fatemiyoun.

This report highlights the command and control of the IRGC for organizing Afghan forces, the recruiting process and details of registration centers throughout Iran, details of Afghan Military Training Centers in Iran, the process for sending troops to Syria, their deployment in Syria, operating areas and their 0rganization there, how their salaries are paid, the casualties of Afghan forces, return of the dead and wounded, and the regimeʹs attempt to reduce the dissatisfaction of the families of dead Afghans.

The report provides a lot of information about the command structure of these forces and the role of Qods Force’s Ansar Garrison. It also details the organization of Afghan forces, their recruitment procedures, the promise of jobs for the poor and the unemployed among them, providing them with ID cards and residency in Iran, of course only after several tours of duty in Syria. The regime has also made Afghan prisoners’ release conditional on their participation in the war in Syria.

The report also provides information on 11 centers where Afghans have registered across Iran and their training centers in Pazuki, Chamran, Mashhad, Sadouqi (in Yazd), and IRGC base in Shiraz. The report also presents information on the dispatch of these forces from IRGC’s Kheirohafezin garrison near the city of Karaj, the bases of Afghan forces in Syria, their operational regions as well as their organizational structure, their payment methods, the number of casualties, as well as the regime’s attempts to address the dissatisfaction of the families of the dead.

The NCRI report also unveiled the high number of casualties among the Fatemiyoun units and the dead Afghans’ transfer to Iran.

It added, “Afghan recruits dispatched to Syria receive around two to three million tomans, equivalent to $600 to $700 each month. This salary is deposited in their accounts in Iran, forcing them to remain in Syria until the end of their deployment. Besides, they are paid $100 cash in Syria. Fatemiyoun members are given promises that their families will get their salaries if they are killed or maimed in Syria. But in most cases, their salaries are cut‐off after their return to Iran, leaving their families in very dire conditions.”

The Tolo Television interviewer catches Zarif lying again. “Do you know the number of casualties inflicted on the Afghans in Syria?” he asks. Zarif’s response: “I don’t know the exact number, but…” To sidestep further follow up by the interviewer who asks who knows the number of causalities, Zarif says, “But we give compensation to their families. We support the families of those who get martyred – for their cause.”

The interviewer is not content. He asks rhetorically, “Under the Iranian rule, the Afghans are not allowed to subscribe to a mobile SIM card. In some places, they are not allowed to attend schools. They are killed (by Iranian forces on the street). They are not allowed to visit parks or other public places. Interestingly, they could have free movement and go to Syria to fight?”

In a report in June 2018, Afghanistan’s Aryana television quoted a commander of the Fatemiyoun in Iran as saying that Afghan forces operating under the command of the IRGC had 10,000 casualties.

Zahir Mojahed, the Fatemiyoun’s cultural official, told the same television station that the casualties include 2,000 dead and 8,000 wounded.

The U.S. Virtual Embassy in Iran also tweeted about the mullahs’ foreign minister’s interview, describing Zarif’s remarks as a lie and wrote: “Several organizations continue to record the IRGC’s tactics of forcing Afghan refugees to serve as foreign fighters.” The Virtual Embassy refers to a New York Times interview with a 17-year-old Afghan who tells the newspaper that the regime used Afghan nationals between the ages of 15 and 17 as soldiers of the “first wave” in attacks that resulted in more casualties.”