Small Wars Journal

Recruited by Iran to Fight for Syrian Regime, Young Afghans Bring Home Cash and Scars

Recruited by Iran to Fight for Syrian Regime, Young Afghans Bring Home Cash and Scars by Pamela Constable – Washington Post

HERAT, Afghanistan - Over the past four years, thousands of young Afghan Shiite men have been drawn into the war in Syria by Iran, part of a well-financed system of recruitment, training and incentives that funnels Afghan recruits to fight for a repressive Arab government.

The Afghans are soldiers in someone else’s war, propelled by economic woes and religious loyalty to join a foreign fight. Some have lost friends and relatives in battle or sustained severe injuries themselves. As many as 840 have been killed, according to researchers. Survivors can recount hard-fought battles near Aleppo or Damascus, and some believe they are helping to protect sacred Shiite shrines in those areas.

Rare recent interviews with returned fighters and their families in Herat have shed new light on the desperation that drives such men to fight on Tehran’s behalf in Syria, where a variety of foreign, Iran-backed forces have shored up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Even more than religion, these Afghan recruits seem mainly driven by necessity, reenlisting again and again to take home another few hundred dollars in military pay — even as they risk injury or death in front-line battles where few Iranian troops are sent. Although they can vividly recount specific battles, they have limited knowledge of the wider causes and complex international roles in the war…

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