ISLAMABAD - A prominent former Afghan insurgent leader Tuesday said 30,000 of his countrymen are fighting in Syria and Iraq.
"Afghans are being trained to fight at home and abroad,” said Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, while addressing tribal elders in Kabul.
The controversial warlord’s Hizb-e-Islami faction recently concluded a peace deal with the Afghan government to end insurgent activities and pave the way for Hekmatyar to come out of years of hiding.
Hekmatyar would not discuss the source of his information on the number of Afghans fighting abroad, but suggested they are doing so only to feed their poverty-stricken families.
“Today, you have 30,000 Afghans fighting in Iraq and Syria. God knows better how many of them have been killed,” Hekmatyar said.
Decades of conflict and poverty have forced Afghans to abandon their country and travel across the globe in search of livelihood.
Millions of Afghans continue to live in neighboring Pakistan and Iran while conflict continues to uproot thousands in Afghanistan.
Lately, some displaced families have found the battlefields in Syria and Iraq as a source of income because of Iran.
Some refugees in Iran, mainly Shi'ite Hazara Afghans, are reportedly being recruited and trained to fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria. An estimated 3 million Afghans are in Iran, including about 2 million undocumented refugees.
According to media reports, it is the undocumented refugees whom Iran's Revolutionary Guards exploit and recruit to raise militias fighting in Syria. Reports also say that in return, the volunteers’ displaced families are offered legal status in addition to getting hundreds of dollars in monthly salaries. The potential fighters are told they are being sent on a sacred mission of defending holy shrines and Islam.
During parliamentary sessions, Afghan lawmakers have repeatedly urged their government to take up the issue with Iran to stop the exploitation of refugees. Government officials rarely comment on the issue and maintain that Kabul is in contact with Tehran.