By Daniel Dayan
November 6, 2021
The Islamic Republic has summoned senior commanders of the Fatemiyoun Brigade – a paramilitary army affiliated with the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps whose members are Afghan citizens and Hazara migrants – to Syria after a three-year hiatus to its operations in the country. A group of less than 300 Fatemiyoun fighters is currently in Syria; but, the commander said, they have continued training there over the past three years.
Fatemiyoun fighters, in exchange for a monthly salary and the promise of legal residency in Iran, which they often do not receive, fight on behalf of the Iranian Syrian governments against ISIS in Syria. No figures are available for how many were killed in action, or who deserted the force, but it now appears that three months ago the Islamic Republic’s Quds Force recalled its top Fatemiyoung commanders to Syria.
According to the commander who spoke to IranWire, although there is no war in Syria at the moment and ISIS has been diminished, they are still present in Damascus, Aleppo and some other cities in the country.
The commander said he has spent the past three years in Afghanistan, working as a farmer, but that now, with his return to Syria, his monthly salary, like that of other Fatemiyoun forces, has increased. According to this commander, three years ago his monthly salary was about three million tomans ($110), but now senior commanders receive eight million tomans ($295) and the fighters receive five million tomans ($185).
He also defended the actions of the Fatemiyoun Brigade: “I have seen action across Syria and now I supervise each city of the country. If we did not fight in Syria, the Shiites in the Middle East would not be as safe as they are now. All of them are indebted to the Afghan people. These days I have to be more careful in the war: I have been married for three years and now have a child. But I must say that the living conditions of the Fatemiyoun in Syria have improved, and we are allowed to go to places of entertainment, we also exercise in military bases, and we have free time to have fun.”
The military commander’s wife and son currently live in the Dasht-e Barchi area of Kabul, and the increase in his salary in the Fatemiyoun enabled him to provide a comfortable life for his family in the face of widespread poverty and hunger in Afghanistan.
In the current complex political situation in Afghanistan, membership in the Fatemiyoun Brigade, especially as a senior commander, is a privilege. IranWire’s source, meanwhile, said he believes that Afghanistan has not yet been fully taken over to the Taliban: “The situation in Afghanistan is bad and if we fall into the hands of the Taliban, we will not be able to live. I do not know when I will go back to Afghanistan. Maybe I will not go there as long as the Taliban are in power. In my opinion, Syria will soon be cleansed of ISIS and there will be no war in Afghanistan. But if the war reaches Afghanistan, I will never fight [them] in my own country, and if I have to choose between the interests of Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic, I will stand by my homeland.”
The existence Fatemiyoun has always challenged actors in the region. No numbers exist on its size or composition and those who have left the force are on the run. Afghanistan’s former government had previously persecuted them for fighting for the interests of another country. The Taliban, meanwhile, have yet to take a clear stand either for or against its current and past fighters.
Iran’s own intentions for the Fatemiyoun are also unclear – and former fighters say the Islamic Republic has not kept its promises to the Afghans who fought under its banner.
Many Afghans see the brigade as a proxy force of the Islamic Republic in their region. The concern is that the Fatemiyoun could be activated on Afghan soil as a force loyal to the Islamic Republic. The worries persist even as ISIS has claimed responsibility for two attacks on Shia mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar provinces – stoking fears that Afghanistan will yet again become a battlefield for the wars of others.