IRGC Saberin Special Forces at work in Syria


IRGC Saberin Special Forces coat of arms

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 2011 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 2011 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 commitment first and foremost. The unit also requires its fighters to possess technical knowledge and skills on the battlefield. Saberin places special emphasis on sniper training.


Obituary poster for Third Lieutenant Hossein Jamali, who was killed in Syria. The announcement was made on October 29, 2015.[Update: the Saberin fought PJAK in 2011, not 2012.]

Amir Toumaj is a independent analyst and contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Evan says:

    Amir, how would you say these “Saberin” commandoes stack up against other elite units from different, particularly western, elite combat units? How do they compare? Do you see thier policy of ideological commitment first, as a strength or weakness?
    Are they zealots? Or do they possess the ability to think and act for themselves, untethered, and far away from command?
    Are they primarily combat troops?

  • Chuck says:

    Saberin must have run into some real warriors.

  • Mark Rowney says:

    Iran please flood Syria with more of these forces and quickly rid the country of the American sponsored foreign fighters. This ISIS and the so called moderates[priest killers and heart eaters] need to be removed quickly and do not ever trust America. Honest Australian

  • Brian says:

    that’s so sad I hope the Iranians have the opportunity to publish many many more may be hundreds more of those posters for their people

  • Evan says:

    “Honest Australian”
    Do you have any proof at all to support your allegations of my country sponsoring IS?

    Of course not, just whacky conspiracies, far out theories, and wishful thinking.

    My country has done more to promote and protect peace and prosperity than all of the rest of the world combined, and if it weren’t for my forefathers, you would be commenting in Japanese.

    Don’t ever trust America?
    You know that there are 350 million people that comprise “America.” None of us are worth trusting?
    I’m glad that your forefathers had more sense in thier noggins than you do, and trusted America, and gosh, all you got for it was your country, your freedom, and your liberty.

  • irebukeu says:

    Brian, and let’s remember there are lots of Americans who are upset that those posters are going up for they believe it should be the mothers of AMERICAN soldiers that should be crying for their fallen children. Beware the chicken hawks who advocate for war at every opportunity yet never go fight themselves.
    Chicken hawks who want to fight ISIS can go to the Rojava and fight. How many of the chicken hawks have arrived?


  • John says:

    Well said Sir.

  • tuffsnotenuff says:

    Haven’t they been in Syria in numbers since at least 2012? Defending Damascus.

    When DAESH rolled the most of the other pro-Sharia local militias, Quds Force/Sabarin resources came in on the government side. I read one report that had two battalions in there on the ground.

    (Syria has been a Kanun Law society for centuries. Modernized Sharia for religious law, the Kanun system from the Ottomans for civil and criminal law. Inflicting Saudi Sharia on Syria? That is a foreign project. “Rebellion” — not exactly.)


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