June 26, 2016
ISLAMABAD—Syria’s main opposition alliance is conveying serious concerns over Iran’s campaign of recruiting and training thousands of Afghan men to fight in Syria.
Officials in Afghanistan confirmed Sunday they have received a letter expressing the concerns from the Syrians.
The letter urges President Ashraf Ghani to take urgent steps to stop religiously-motivated exploitation of Afghans and discourage them from becoming part of the Syrian conflict, a government official told VOA on condition of anonymity. He did not provide any other details.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Shakeb Mustaghani told VOA that not only through this letter, but through other previous reports, the government is fully aware of activities of Afghans in Syria.
“Unfortunately, through non-governmental organizations and sometimes through official channels in countries where Afghan refugees are being hosted, the displaced population is forced to indulge in activities that are against international norms and also beyond the control of the Afghan government,” the spokesman lamented.
He said Kabul is looking into the issue through the offices of the U.N. refugee agency and other diplomatic channels.
Afghans in Iran
There has been increasing evidence Tehran is recruiting men from among an estimated three million Afghans in Iran, with only about a million Afghans having a formal legal status as refugees the country. Many of the displaced families have fled persecution and armed conflict in Afghanistan.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards is believed to be behind mobilization of a multi-national Shi’ite Muslim armed militia in support of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The recruits are said to be mostly from the improvised ethnic Hazara Shi’ite community who are promised a monthly salary and residence permits in exchange for what Iranian authorities tell them is a sacred mission to defend Shi’ite holy shrines in Damascus from Islamic State or Daesh.
Rights groups say that there have also been instances of forced deportations of Afghans who refused the offer. Many of the recruits, they say, fled the battlefield and joined the refugee trail seeking asylum in Europe.
In its report published earlier this year, the Human Rights Watch estimated that up to 10,000 Afghans may have been recruited and trained to fight in Syria.
It said funerals for Afghans killed in the fighting are frequently held in Iran, sometimes attended by Iranian officials.