Iran Recruiting Afghans to Help Assad in Syria

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps reportedly offers $500 a month to Afghan refugees, estimated to number 1 million, and are among the poorest in country.

Poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad at Umayyad Square in Damascus
Poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad at Umayyad Square in Damascus May 16, 2014. Reuters

Iran has been recruiting thousands of Afghan refugees to help fight alongside the Assad regime in Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing Afghan and Western sources.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which organizes and commands Shi'ite militias in Syria, is reportedly offering Afghan recruits $500 a month, residency in Iran and school registration for their children.

According to the UN, there are one million registered Afghan refugees in Iran, among the poorest sector in the country. They are Shi'ites who support the Syrian government, which is dominated by the Alawites, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

According to the report, 800 Afghans cross illegally into Iran every day and are not allowed to work or attend school.

Hamid Babaei, spokesperson for the UN mission to Iran, denies the reports. Babaei is quoted in the report as saying that "Iranian presence in the country is solely advisory in nature in order to help counter the extremist... al-Qaeda groups from committing more massacre and bloodshed."

However, both Iran and militant Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah have openly taken credit for helping the Assad regime in Syria, mired in a civil war for over three years.
U.S. officials in Washington have expressed concern over the fact that the war in Syria is attracting foreign fighters.

"We assess that there are now significantly more foreign fighters in Syria than there were foreign fighters in Iraq at the height of the Iraq war," Matthew Spence, a senior defense official recently told Congress.