Elite Iranian Special Forces, named “Saberin” units, have been deployed as part of the broader Iranian expeditionary force to Syria. Iran’s Ground Forces significantly escalated their involvement in October 2015, coinciding with Russia’s military intervention.
There has been a corresponding spike in Saberin fatalities since the escalation. Their deaths have been publicly announced, and funeral ceremonies have been held in their hometowns across Iran.
The Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) held its fourth annual commemoration of elite Special Forces killed in combat at the Ground Forces Headquarters in Tehran on Feb. 11. This year, the Guard honored six commanders and eight members of the Saberin Commando Brigade killed during their “advice and assist” missions in the Syrian Civil War. They also commemorated 19 members killed in a major operation in 2012 against the Kurdish separatist group PJAK (Free Life Party of Kurdistan) in northwestern Iran.
IRGC Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour delivered remarks, stressing the importance of winning the wars in Syria and Iraq to “defend” sacred Shi’a shrines. He warned that if they failed to achieve victory, Iran could face the same foes and Sunni extremists at its western borders.
Origin of Saberin
“Saberin” means the patient ones. According to commanders, the unit’s name is inspired by the Quranic verse Al-Anfal 8:65, which states: “0 Prophet! Inspire the believers to conquer all fear of death when fighting, [so that,] if there be twenty of you who are patient in adversity, they might overcome two hundred; and [that,] if there be one hundred of you, they might overcome one thousand…”
After the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the IRGC Ground Forces saw the need to establish a special forces unit capable of undertaking difficult combat operations from land, sea, and air. This would be a different function than the Qods Force, the external operations unit. Current IRGC chief commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari founded the Saberin unit in 2000. The current Saberin commander is Colonel Ebrahim Atani. According to Brigadier General Morteza Mirian, the commander of Saberin operations against PJAK in 2012 and deputy commander of IRGC Ground Forces Operations Directorate, the unit emulates from tactics deployed by 11 special forces units, particularly the British Special Air Service. They also studied U.S. special forces.
Saberin Special Forces demand ideological committment first and foremost. The unit also requires its fighters to possess technical knoweldge and skills on the battlefield. Saberin places special emphasis on sniper training.