At least two Iranians have been killed in combat in the central Syrian province of Hama, according to Iranian officials. The Assad regime and its allies are attempting to counter a major insurgent offensive, which was launched earlier this month in the northern part of the province.
The two recently killed Iranians were members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Basij paramilitary, according to Iranian media. The Basij is an all-volunteer force whose members can undergo military training by the IRGC’s ground forces branch. The IRGC commands the Basij and its members have deployed to Syria and Iraq as part of IRGC-led expeditionary forces.
Saeed Khajeh Salehani, whose death was announced on Mar. 25, was the commander of a Basij base located in a county on the outskirts of Tehran and had four tours in Syria under his belt, according to officials. The following day, officials announced the death of Hossein Moez-Qolami, who was a member of a Basij based in the capital.
Pro-regime forces, including Harakat al Nujaba (an Iranian-controlled Iraqi militia) and the Tiger Forces have deployed to bolster the northern Hama front against the opposition assault. The insurgents include a number of jihadist, Islamist and Free Syrian Army-branded groups. Al Qaeda’s joint venture, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, is playing a significant role.
The death of the two Iranians indicates that elements of the IRGC’s ground forces have continued to deploy to Syria. Since the early phases of the Syrian war, that IRGC branch has been augmenting the Qods Force, which is the Guard’s extraterritorial arm. Regular Iranian forces operate alongside the IRGC-led foreign militias and other pro-regime fighters. The IRGC prefers to rely on foreign proxies as foot soldiers, with Iranian officers advising and leading complex operations. However, the Guard’s top command has not hesitated to inject its forces in larger numbers, such as during its peak deployment from the fall of 2015 to mid-2016.