Established by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to fight in the Syrian Civil War on behalf of Bashar Assad’s government, the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division is comprised of Afghan Shias primarily recruited from the diaspora in Iran, and some from Afghanistan. The Fatemiyoun’s call to jihad is to defend Shia shrines in Syria, particularly the Sayyida Zaynab mosque in Damascus. They are thus referred to as “defenders of the shrine.”
Iranian media began acknowledging Afghan fatalities in 2013. Iranian press claim the Fatemiyoun upgraded from a brigade to a division last year, though the actual number of fighters may be less than 10,000. At least 383 Fatemiyoun fighters have been killed in combat in Syria, according to Iranian media. Media coverage of dead Afghan combatants are not uncommon in Iran these days, particularly in the cities of Mashhad and Qom, which have sizable Afghan communities.
Tasnim News Agency, an Iranian media outlet affiliated with the IRGC, published on July 12 a report revealing Lebanese Hezbollah’s role in training new Fatemiyoun special forces units. Hezbollah has been at the forefront of training other IRGC-backed militias in Iraq.
A group of Fatemiyoun forces have recently completed both special training and advanced military courses, according to Tasnim. These forces have been deployed as a “stimulant combat arm” alongside regular Fatemiyoun militia combatants, according to the media outlet.
The first group of these special forces that have been deployed to “various areas in Syria,” Tasnim claims, have completed advanced sniper courses “under the supervision of Lebanese Hezbollah snipers” and Afghan instructors.
“The notable point is that the special Fatemiyoun forces have been trained under skilled Afghan instructors who themselves have completed training in special courses under the supervision of skilled Hezbollah forces,” according to Tasnim.
“Hundreds of special Fatemiyoun snipers have been deployed to defend sacred shrines across Syria and have joined Fatemiyoun combat units,” Tasnim claims.
Additional groups of “special” Fatemiyoun forces with advanced training in combat, commando capabilities, guerilla warfare, anti-armor missiles, shoulder-launched missiles, etc. are expected to join “the combat organization of the resistance front in Syria,” Tasnim announced.
The Fatemiyoun have “gained many achievement in liberating occupied areas in Syria and also defending the shrines in this country,” Tasnim boasted.
Amir Toumaj is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.