Sayed Hashem has had three years of experience serving in the Afghan National Army. He has been trained by the American forces at a military school in Afghanistan. He was one of the cadets which U.S. and Afghan officials hoped they could be a stabilizing force for a country where security is still under constant threat by remaining al Qaeda fighters, the Taliban and feuding warlords. Sayed Hashem has carried out several missions in both secure and insecure places, and has fought Taliban militants in Kabul, Kandahar and Helmand, always showing bravery in his actions. When he was discharged from the army, he returned to his hometown northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where he got married. The 32-year-old sold off half of the land he had inherited and opened a grocery shop to provide for his wife and son. Selling the plot of land, however, led to a quarrel within his large family, due to worsening of their economic situation. This had a devastating impact on Hashem. ''He told my father that he wanted to go to Iran and then to Turkey. And because he had a military background and had fought against the Taliban, his life was in danger, so he would seek asylum in Europe,'' his sister told IranWire.
When Hashim arrived in Iran, he was convinced by those around him that going to Turkey and seeking a job there was a waste of his time. Hashim was reminded that he had served in the army and he could be a good commander. As he had all of his military documents with him (for the purposes of asylum), this route was a tempting one to follow.
The recruitment of Afghan citizens for the Fatemiyoun Division, later known as the Fatemiyoun Brigade, was taking place in almost every corner of Iran. Hashim's sister says that her brother cut contact with his relatives for a few months after he went to Iran. She adds that it was through “our relatives [that we heard] that Hashim went to a camp.''
The basic training that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps camp provided was redundant because of the experience and training Hashim had already received from training by American forces when he was in the Afghan army. Showing off his skills, and set with his documents, Hashim prepared to go to Syria, a war that promised both fame and an income. Fighting against the denounced ISIS group could pave the way for an Afghan-Shiite man to find a second home in Iran.
“He rang my mother and said that he was going abroad,” his sister told IranWire. “He was going to Syria. My mother said that she would not forgive her milk [her child] if he goes to Syria. She said, ‘Don't go to Syria. Go to Turkey.’ My brother said that he was not going there to fight, but that he was going to work in the radio-operating unit in the military base. He said to us that he had enough experience and would be sent as an expert employee to the radio-operating section. Eventually, he went.”
Hashim's first mission during the first years of the Afghans’ engagement in the Syrian war was in 2013 and lasted six months. He returned and was very satisfied with his experience. He had taken command of a group of youth in the war against ISIS and those opposing Bashar al-Assad, and he had the upper hand. He stayed in Iran for two months, then returned to Syria for his second mission. One night during this period, he called his family in Afghanistan via Telegram. His sister remembered: “After a short chat with my mother and father, he said to my father that he wanted to talk with my younger brother, Ismail, in private.” The mobile was handed to Ismail and he went out of the room. When he came back to the room his face was pale and he was in shock. His older brother, Hashim, had been surrounded by ISIS in Homs for three days, and they had little to eat and few resources left for fighting. Hashim had told his brother that if reinforcements did not arrive within three days, their equipment and arsenal would run out and they would either be killed by ISIS or commit suicide.
According to their sister, when their mother learned of this, “She went to a shrine with a barefoot, held many prayer ceremonies, and sacrificed a sheep.” After one day, Hashim called his home and said that the helping forces who came from Iran had rescued them. After almost facing death, Hashim returned to Iran and then to Afghanistan. He spent less than a month in Afghanistan – where he would frequently talk with his younger brother – and then left to go back to Iran, together with his wife and two children. He told his mother that his mission in the military was done and that he would now remain in Iran. With two tours in Syria behind him, Hashim had risen to an important position: he was a commander in one of the Fatemiyoun units. His sister explained that part of his responsibility was to supervise Iran's drones flying within Syrian space.
Hashim's younger brother, Ismail, became interested in following his brother to Iran. The political situation in Afghanistan was proving disappointing and there was little hope for a future or livelihood there. Hashim would send photos back to Afghanistan, showing him in his military uniform, sitting in armored vehicles and tanks, holding different guns, and displaying various medals on his chest. The more he sent his photos, the more Ismail prepared to go to Syria and join him. The money that Hashim had brought to Afghanistan from Iran was added to the amount that had already been deposited at home to arrange an illegal journey to Iran and, eventually, Afs 40,000 (US$700) was paid to a human trafficker to take Ismail to Iran.
But as soon as Ismail arrived in Syria, he was sent to the frontline in Aleppo – the scene of heavy fighting. One day, Ismail telephoned his family in Mazar-i-Sharif – crying that he was on the front line, the war was intense, and that he had no idea of the whereabouts of Hashim. Ismail wanted his brother to come and save him. He told his mother to find Hashim, as he was considered an influential person within the Brigade, and his words were taken seriously. Ismail complained that the bases varied, and as Hashim had a lot of friends, he would be able to influence his brother’s deployment. But nothing changed. Later, Ismail called his family again, telling them that his life was in danger. After a week, his family was informed that Ismail was in Iran and was severely injured. Once again his mother was crying and praying. Ismail was hospitalized but discharged after one week.
The Syria war that was expected to bring two brothers together had instead parted them with irreparable distance. Hashim is rising higher and higher on the Fatemiyoun ladder, while a disappointed Ismail remains injured, helpless and addicted to drugs.
Recently, Iranian police arrested Ismail and deported him to Afghanistan. But his big brother Hashim’s concerns lie elsewhere. When Hashim’s mother complains about his carelessness regarding his younger brother, Hashim says that they are fighting to show the real face of Islam to the world. War is hard, he says. It needs sacrifice, and if one of the victims is his brother, that is not a problem.