This young Afghan man served from 2013 to 2015 in Syria, fighting for Iran’s Fatemiyoun Brigade, a militia primarily comprised of Afghan immigrants in Iran and run by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). “The Islamic Republic did not keep any of the promises given to Fatemiyoun members,” he told me.
He was deployed to Syria many times. According to him, when he complained about not being able to take a vacation, he was first fired and then deported back to Afghanistan.
Currently, he lives in Kabul, but he was born and grew up in Mashhad, Iran. Like many others in the brigade, he was a construction worker in Iran before joining the unit — until he was introduced to a recruitment office by an old friend who was a first-generation Fatemiyoun fighter. “Before the registration, some agents came to my neighborhood and conducted an investigation on me. They asked for the exact home and work addresses and phone numbers of my family members and friends.”
According to him, the main requirement for a soldier to register was nominating a family member to be his representative. While the soldier fought in Syria, the family member would receive his salary on his behalf. However, this was only required from those who had family members in Iran; those construction workers with no one else based in the country could register more easily.
The soldier I spoke to appointed a family member to look after his salary. One week after this, he was sent first to Tehran and then to Amol for military training. He believes the city of Amol was chosen as the location for the training camp because of its similarities to Syria in terms of weather and landscape. “Actually, this is the base for training guerrilla fighters who will be sent on missions outside the country. For one month they trained us on various tactics including street-side bombing, using heavy artilleries, demolition methods for buildings, leaving no trace behind, invasion and retreat, etc.”
Acquiring residency status for his family and himself, along with protecting Hazrat Zainab’s shrine, were his motives for joining the war in Syria. “It meant a lot to me to be able to give my family Iranian residency and make even more money. In addition, I could defend haram as well, which really encouraged me to go to Syria many times.”
He talked about many Afghan youths who sacrifice themselves for their families so they can have a peaceful life with an Iranian residency. “Many join Fatemiyoun with the hope of being killed because they think that is the cost for their families to get Iranian IDs. But the Islamic Republic has never issued a single residency document for any of the Fatemiyoun martyrs’ families.”
The Supreme Leader’s $100 Bills
The soldier served in the special unit and fought against ISIS and other forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad in many different cities across Syria, including Damascus and Aleppo. He says he has many memories, both bitter and sweet, of the war in Syria. “One could spot Afghan fighters on both sides of the battlefield. Once we defeated ISIS and recaptured a city. There was an injured person lying on the ground who was crying and begging, “Don’t kill me, I’m an Afghan too!”
I asked him about his salary. “In addition to 30 million Iranian rials from the IRGC as a monthly salary, while I was fighting in Syria, from time to time the Supreme Leader’s representative would visit and reward every fighter with a US$100 bill as a gift from the Supreme Leader for us to spend in Syria,” he told me.
In his opinion, the number of Fatemiyoun casualties in Syria is too high. “In the group that I deployed with the first time, there were 120 people. From this many only 20 of us are not confirmed dead today. Among which, only eight are completely fine, seven were injured, and five went missing. I don’t know what happened to them.”
He says the Islamic Republic did not keep its promises; like some others who joined the brigade, he said Iranian authorities fooled Afghan immigrants into registering to fight in Syria. “The Islamic Revolutionary Guard justifies our presence in this war with fooling us into the idea of defending the shrine of Hazrat Zainab, but when they win you over there is no sign of any shrine for miles, they take Afghan fighters to combat zones like Aleppo, where the battle is way more intense — so intense that even Assad’s army can’t fight ISIS off in those battlefields.”
As he says, he and his friends also thought they were going to Syria to defend Hazrat Zainab’s haram (or shrine), but as soon as they entered the country they saw a significant change in the plan. He says he complained about deployments to the places that had nothing to do with defending the holy places, but no one listened to him.
After the war in Syria became even more heated, Fatemiyoun casualties also skyrocketed. The unit’s generals decided to ban any leave or vacations for the fighters who were midway through their terms of service. “After each defeat, we would lose some days off. The first time I was deployed I had 45 days off. The second time it declined to 15 days, and third time down to 10 days. As the length of my terms got longer and longer, they gave me fewer and fewer days off.”
After serving for two years, he wasn’t entitled to any days off. “I could not get even a couple days off to come back and visit my family.” This eventually triggered his anger, and he started a verbal dispute with his superior — which ended with him getting fired. He was sent back to Iran immediately but after entering the airport he was shocked to find out his resident card had expired, and he had no chance to extend it anymore. Although his family still lives in Iran, the government deported him back to Afghanistan.
He now works as a construction worker in Kabul, but he is not happy with his current situation.“There is not much work to do in Kabul and I no longer have my documents to go back to Iran.”
Behnam Zibayi, citizen journalist
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