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Lebanon’s Hezbollah Train Afghan Snipers to Fight for Assad

FILE - A Lebanon Hezbollah fighter carries his weapon as he stands in Khashaat, in the Qalamoun region after they advanced in the area, May 15, 2015.
FILE - A Lebanon Hezbollah fighter carries his weapon as he stands in Khashaat, in the Qalamoun region after they advanced in the area, May 15, 2015.

Lebanon's militant Hezbollah movement has been providing advanced sniper training to Afghans fighting for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, reports an Iranian news service.

According to the Iranian pro-state Tasnim news agency, hundreds of Afghan snipers recently concluded a comprehensive advanced shooting training. These fighters, who have been deployed to frontlines in various parts of Syria, also receive higher compensations than ordinary fighters do.

According to the Iranian news agency, the snipers received training from “Lebanon’s Hezbollah trainers” in cooperation with their Afghan counterparts. The training includes techniques and procedures critical to the success of snipers and counter sniper operations.

Iran has sent thousands of Afghan refugees, mainly ethnic Shi’ite Hazaras, to Syria to fight alongside forces of Hezbollah and Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard forces in support of the government of Assad, sources in Iran and Afghanistan told VOA.

The snipers are part of the “Fatemiyon Brigade,” the second largest group of foreigners fighting for Assad in Syria. Western media estimate their numbers to be 10- to 12,000.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is also fighting for Assad in Syria, recruits Afghans with promises of Iranian citizenship and improved living standards for their families. Many of them are recruited from impoverished and vulnerable refugee communities, mainly from Qum and Mashhad.

Afghan Fighters in Iran

Roughly, three million Afghans live in Iran. Most settled there after fleeing war and conflict in their homeland. Many Afghans in Iran lack basic rights and live without a formal status.About 950,000 are classified as refugees.

Many of the young Afghan Shi’ite refugees are also lured “to defend the Zeinab Shrine, a holy site for Shi’ite Muslims.”

“Only committed Afghan fighters who are able to prove their loyalty to the [Iranian] regime and show devotion to the values of Shi’ite Islam, can find their way into the inner circle of the [Fatemiyon] brigade,” a Tehran-based Afghan refugee told VOA on condition of anonymity.

“The younger and sharper guys are cherry-picked by the brigade commanders for sniper shooting and given comprehensive training,” the Afghan refugee added.

According to Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland, most Afghan fighters are paid between $400 and $600 per month, the Afghan refugee told VOA that the snipers receive higher compensations.

“They [snipers] receive higher salary and compensation, in most cases double and in some cases even five times higher, than the ordinary fighters,” he said.

The Iranian news service added that several other Fatemiyon teams would soon receive advanced military training, including armored, ranger, and guerilla techniques.

Rights Groups Concerned

Human rights organizations as well as Syrian opposition groups have voiced deep concern over Iran’s recruitment of Afghan refugees for the Syrian war.

In a letter last month to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani the chairperson of the legal committee of Syrian National Coalition urged Kabul to stop the flow of Afghan fighters to Syria from Iran.

The letter, which blamed Iran for training the Afghan fighters, said the fighters had committed war crimes against the Syrian people.

Human Rights Watch has said Iran must stop using Afghans to fight in Syria.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry has admitted some Afghan refugees are recruited by government and non-government institutions to activities against international laws, but said the government is trying to solve the problem through diplomatic channels.