Anfragebeantwortung zu Afghanistan: Informationen zur Fatemiyoun-Brigade [a-9747]

18. Juli 2016

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·      FP – Foreign Policy: Iran Has More Volunteers for the Syrian War Than It Knows What to Do With, 12. Mai 2016

„The Fatemiyoun Brigade emerged as a fighting force in Syria as early as 2012, but some of its top members have long-established links with the IRGC. Its first commander, Ali Reza Tavassoli — born in Afghanistan in 1962 and killed in Daraa, Syria, in February 2015 — fought alongside the IRGC in the Iran-Iraq War with a contingent of Afghan Shiite volunteers.” (FP, 12. Mai 2016)

·      Guardian: Afghan refugees in Iran being sent to fight and die for Assad in Syria, 5. November 2015

„Iran is recruiting Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, promising a monthly salary and residence permits in exchange for what it claims to be a sacred endeavour to save Shia shrines in Damascus. […]

The Fatemioun military division of Afghan refugees living in Iran and Syria is now the second largest foreign military contingent fighting in support of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, after the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. ‘Recruitment is taking place on a daily basis in Mashhad and Qom, two Iranian cities with the largest population of Afghan refugees. Mashhad, the second most populous city in Iran, is only three hours’ drive from the country’s border with Afghanistan. Fatemioun was set up in Iran after the Syrian conflict started in 2011 with help from Afghan refugees who had previously cooperated with Iran, notably before the US invasion in 2001. Although it is not clear how many members it has, it was upgraded from a brigade to a military division, or lashkar, earlier this year, which is supposed to have between 10,000 to 12,000 members. Iranian agencies reported that its commander, Reza Khavari, was killed in Syria last month and it is not clear who has replaced him since.” (Guardian, 5. November 2015)

·      Guardian: Iran covertly recruits Afghan Shias to fight in Syria, 30. Juni 2016

„Iran is covertly recruiting hundreds of Afghan Shias in Afghanistan to fight for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, drawing them out of their own conflict-ridden country and into another war in which Afghanistan plays no official part. The Afghan fighters are often impoverished, religiously devout or ostracised from society, looking for money, social acceptance and a sense of purpose that they are unable to find at home. Iran’s recruitment of Afghan migrants and refugees within its own borders has been documented. But similar Iranian activities inside Afghanistan had previously gone unreported. Iran denies using ‘any kind of allurement or coercion’, or to otherwise recruiting Afghans to fight in Syria, according to an embassy spokesman in Kabul. But a Guardian investigation can reveal both how Iran coaxes Afghan men into war, and the motives that prompt these men to travel thousands of miles to join a battle they might not return from.

Central in this recruitment are men such as Jawad. A police officer by day and self-declared ‘travel agent’ when off-duty, Jawad said he acted for a year as middleman for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) when in 2014 it formed an Afghan Shia militia, the Fatemiyoun Division, to fight alongside Syrian government forces. From his ‘travel agency’ on the second floor of a non-descript office building, Jawad connected combat willing men with Iran’s embassy in Kabul. The embassy assisted with visas and travel, and paid Jawad a commission for his troubles. In return for fighting, Afghans are offered a residence permit in Iran and about $500 monthly salary. ‘Most go to Syria for the money,’ said Jawad, wearing stonewashed jeans and replica Ray-Bans. ‘Others go to defend the shrine.’ […]

The first time the Guardian met Jawad, he was preparing to travel to Syria himself. Isis had abducted 12 Afghan fighters in a suburb of Damascus. It was Jawad who had recruited them, and their families now demanded that he help secure their release, he said. When he returned from Syria a month later, he was clearly shaken. Showing photos from Damascus, he said he had negotiated the hostages’ freedom, but also seen first hand how ‘the Iranians use Afghans as human shields’. He said he would stop working as go-between for the Iranians. ‘I’m ashamed because I sent these people,’ he said. There might be another reason for Jawad’s change of heart. Upon his return, the Afghan intelligence agency, NDS, arrested Jawad for 48 hours. ‘They told me, ‘don’t sell your brothers to another country’,’ he said. […]

Some Afghan politicians have tried to intervene. Nazir Ahmadzai, an MP who has tracked recruitment of Afghan combatants, said Iran was stoking ethnic tension between Sunnis and Shias, in order to assert control in Afghanistan. ‘Iran’s policy is to bring division between Muslims. They want Afghanistan to become like Syria,’ he said, adding that he had seen a list of at least 1,800 Afghans recruited in Kabul alone. Analysts, though, like Alfoneh, rejected that estimate as too high. In addition to agents like Jawad, the IRGC has also allegedly used mosques in Afghan cities as recruitment grounds. One such mosque is in Dast-e Barchi, a predominantly Shia neighbourhood in Kabul, according to Ahmadzai who declined to name the mosque. He said after he dispatched a team of investigators, the mosque ceased recruitment. Although the Iranian embassy in Kabul denied involvement, a Syrian opposition leader fighting the Fatemiyoun recently urged the Afghan government to stop the flow of fighters traveling to Syria. Haitham Maleh, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, put the number of Afghans fighting in pro-Assad forces at 8,000. The Afghan intelligence service has clamped down on some recruitment, but it treads carefully, said Ali Mohammad Ali, a security analyst. […]

Despite opposition from family, intelligence and politicians, young Afghans will likely continue to drift toward Syria, as long as hopes of a safe, prosperous future at home remain dim. ‘People who go leave nothing behind, they have lost all hope,’ said Younis, an unemployed university graduate in Kabul who knows 20 people that went to Syria from Iran, including two cousins and an uncle who were killed. All were addicts or had deep family problems, he said. Facing discrimination, drug abuse, and the stigma that comes with it, some see war as the only way to do something out of their own volition. Going to Syria is the ultimate act of desperation, Younis said.” (Guardian, 30. Juni 2016)

·      CSM – Christian Science Monitor: Iran steps up recruitment of Shiite mercenaries for Syrian war, 12. Juni 2016

„With gelled hair spiked high and wearing a Dolce & Gabbana shirt, the young Afghan man looks more like a fashionista than a religious warrior ready to give his life for jihad in Syria. The man wanted to leave Afghanistan for personal reasons, but the Afghans and Iranians who facilitated his trip to Iran, and hosted him in Tehran, saw a recruiting opportunity. For two and a half months, an Iranian recruiter visited nearly every day to convince him to fight on the Syrian frontline with an all-Afghan unit in exchange for promises of a better life. As he felt the pressure grow, he finally acquiesced. […]

‘We will send you to Syria; when you come back we will give you an Iranian passport, a house, and money,’ the 21-year-old Afghan was promised when he got to Tehran. He was told he would be fighting a ‘religious war’ in Syria. […]

The young man from Herat says he was not threatened. But he asked not to be named, and exudes fear as he recounts the failed recruitment by Iranians that he says believed in their cause, and were clearly tasked with the job. ‘I thought, ‘If I do not accept, they will kidnap me and kill me.’ It was very dangerous,’ recalls the would-be recruit. ‘In front of them I accepted everything, I said, ‘I am ready to leave for Syria and take part in the war.’ But I thought to myself, ‘What should I do? How to escape?’ Shaking with anxiety and sweating at first, he tells how his plan to leave Afghanistan was diverted by Iranian recruiters; about how he felt compelled to agree to join the war; about how he lied to flee Iran to escape that commitment; and about why – now months later, and back in Afghanistan – he fears retribution and covers his face in public to avoid being recognized. While in Tehran, he came up with an excuse of visiting an aunt in northern Iran before his deployment to Syria – and never came back. He claims that a fellow Afghan in Herat with official ties, who helped the young man make the trip to Tehran, was an ‘agent of Iran’ whose job is to ‘collect young people’ for the war in Syria.” (CSM, 12. Juni 2016)

·      Al Jazeera: Iran 'foreign legion' leans on Afghan Shia in Syria war, 22. Jänner 2016

„’Five days ago, four Afghan Shia fighters were captured in southern rural Aleppo. In addition to Iranian fighters, there are also militia fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, and recently China,’ Anas al-Abdah, the secretary of the opposition Syrian Coalition's political committee, told Al Jazeera. ‘Iran is recruiting fighters from Shia communities across the world to fight in Syria,’ continued al-Abdah, who is based in Turkey. […] Confirming the exact number of Afghan Shia fighters in Syria was impossible, but Al Jazeera spoke with a military official who said 20,000 was in the correct range. Colonel Hussain Kenani Moghdam of Iran’s Sepah Pasdaran, or Revolutionary Guards – a branch of Iran’s armed forces – told Al Jazeera: ‘Fatemiyon … numbers in the tens of thousands; most of its fighters are already trained in Afghanistan and those that have no training get trained in Afghanistan, and enter into Syria through Iraq or Lebanon.’” (Al Jazeera, 22. Jänner 2016)

·      France 24: Iran coerces Afghans to fight in Syria, says report, 29. Jänner 2016

„While there are no official figures of the number of Afghans fighting in pro-Assad ranks, their numbers were significant enough to merit a special Afghan brigade, known as the Fatemiyoun brigade. In a November 2015 report, British daily, The Guardian, said the brigade had been upgraded to a military division, or lashkar, which is supposed to have between 10,000 to 12,000 members.

The numbers of Afghans joining pro-regime militias in Syria have also been swelled by Afghan Shiite clerics encouraging young men to protect the Sayyida Zaynab mosque, according to a number of Afghans. Vafa, a young man from the western Afghan city of Herat who did not want to be identified, told FRANCE 24’s Observers that Shiite clerics were telling young Afghans that their families would be allowed to live in Iran if they volunteered to fight in Syria.” (France 24, 29. Jänner 2016)

·      Smythe, Phillip: Iran’s Afghan Shiite Fighters in Syria, 3. Juni 2014 (veröffentlicht vom Washington Institute)

„The Afghan Shiites fighting in Syria have come from three main sources. First is the contingent already residing in Syria before the war, a number of whom lived near Sayyeda Zainab, a prominent Shiite shrine located south of Damascus. […]

A second contingent of Afghan Shiite fighters hails from Iran; according to Iranian government-backed newspapers and Afghan Shiite sources, they are the largest such contingent. […]

A third and more debatable source of Afghan Shiite fighters is refugee populations in countries other than Iran and Syria. In April 2013, officials in Afghanistan announced that they would look into reports of Afghan nationals fighting for Assad. And just last month, Kabul called on Tehran to not recruit its nationals to fight in Syria. If direct Iranian recruitment were proven, Kabul threatened to file a complaint with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Yet real evidence of direct recruitment in Afghanistan has yet to surface.” (Smythe, 3. Juni 2014)

·      Long War Journal: Analysis: Shiite Afghan casualties of the war in Syria (Autor: Ali Alfoneh), 12. März 2015

„The civil war in Syria risks exacerbating the sectarian and ethnic conflicts in geographically distant Afghanistan and Pakistan. The deaths of 62 Shiite Afghan nationals killed in combat in Syria since September 2013 testifies to that threat: there is every reason to expect surviving Shiite Afghan veterans of the civil war in Syria to relocate to Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight Sunni groups, including the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, some of whose members also are present in Syria.

The 62 individuals were identified through a survey of Iranian media coverage of the funerals of Shiite Afghan nationals killed in combat in Syria. They were all members of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, which, according to the Islamic Republic media was ‘established in Kabul by Afghan Shiites.’ However, all individuals analyzed were buried in different cities in Iran, their families were present in the funeral processions, and the photos clearly indicate that the ‘martyrs’ were well known figures in the cities where the processions took place. This suggests Fatemiyoun Brigade combatants were recruited among Afghan refugees in Iran rather than in Kabul, Afghanistan.” (Long War Journal, 12. März 2015)

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