It is funded, trained, and equipped by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
(IRGC), and fights under the command of Iranian officers.
However, the group has denied direct Iranian government involvement in its activities.
By late 2017, the unit numbered between 10,000–20,000 fighters.
According to Zohair Mojahed, a cultural official in the group, the group has suffered 2,000 killed and 8,000 wounded in combat in Syria from its establishment up to the end of 2017.
Reports of pro-government Afghan fighters date back to October 2012.
They originally fought in the Iraqi Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigade
before eventually becoming a distinct brigade in 2014.
The group's official purpose is the defense of the shrine
of Zaynab bint Ali
, the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad
. However, it has fought on active frontlines around Daraa
, and Palmyra
. In October 2014, three fighters were captured by the rebel Islamic Front
. Their fates are unknown.
On 7 May 2015, Iran commemorated 49 fighters of the group who were killed.
According to Spiegel Online
, 700 members of the group are believed to have been killed in combat around Daraa and Aleppo as of June 2015.
The Washington Institute estimated at least 255 casualties between January 19, 2012 and March 8, 2016.
In March 2016, they fought in the recapture of Palmyra
from the Islamic State.
In August 2016, Iranian official Qurban Ghalambor was arrested by the Afghan government for recruiting fighters for the brigade.
On 21 November 2017, Iran declared victory over ISIL, and subsequently started to downsize Liwa Fatemiyoun. The first troops to be demobilized were the youngest and oldest, as well as those who had exhibited problematic behavior such as indiscipline. The demobilized fighters were sent back to Iran to return to their families and civilian life.
In course of the COVID-19 pandemic
, Liwa Fatemiyoun reportedly began to produce masks
and gloves in Iran and Syria, intending to distribute them to poor Syrians. Western observers suspected that this was supposed to boost the group's image and help it in recruiting new members.
By late 2020, Liwa Fatemiyoun was still operating in eastern Syria,
though only about 500 to 1,500 fighters strong.
Experts differ on what role Liwa Fatemiyoun was fulfilling as of 2020, as the Syrian government had become relatively secure. Researcher Phillip Smyth argued that Liwa Fatemiyoun was supposed to act as Iran's "phantom force" of trained foreign soldiers, ready to be used for possible future interventions. Accordingly, Symth and ex-Herat Province
governor Abdul Qayoum Rahim argued that Liwa Fatemiyoun had already begun deployment to other regions such as Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq, and was possibly prepared for an intervention in Afghanistan. Symth and Rahim also claimed that the constant fighting had turned Liwa Fatemiyoun into an elite force, as most of its less capable fighters had been killed or demobilized, leaving only the most experienced and radical ones. Other security analysts argued that there was no evidence for further mass foreign deployments, and that Liwa Fatemiyoun was overall dimishing in numbers and suffering from low morale, as the Iranian government had slow in granting promised benefits to its fighters.
Organization, supplies and equipment
Liwa Fatemiyoun is led by IRGC commanders and supplied by the Iranian military
while its troops are recruited from the approximately 3 million Afghans in Iran
as well as Afghan refugees already residing in Syria.
The recruits are typically Hazara
, an ethnic group from central Afghanistan.
The Iranian recruiters for Liwa Fatemiyoun are usually members of the Basij
The Afghans are promised Iranian citizenship and salaries of $500–$800 per month in return for fighting (usually a 3-month-long deployment to Syria).
Many are refugees
and some criminals who choose recruitment over imprisonment or deportation,
though the Iranian government generally claims that they are religiously motivated volunteers.
The first Liwa Fatemiyoun troops sent to Syria were told that they were fulfilling their "Islamic duty" by defending the shrines of Damascus.
Iranian media has claimed that the Iranian military provides Liwa Fatemiyoun fighters and their IRGC officers with Hashish
to raise their morale.
After completing their service, many ex-Liwa Fatemiyoun fighters were frustrated that the Iranian government proved slow in fulfilling all their demands; most importantly, fighters struggled to secure the promised benefits such as salaries, housing, and jobs due to Iran's difficult economic situation and cases of Iranian officials stalling in regards to payouts. The families of fallen fighters have also struggled to secure benefits and visas.
Though some Afghan sub-commanders of Liwa Fatemiyoun are veterans of several wars, including the Iran–Iraq War
and the Afghan Civil War (1996–2001)
new recruits of the unit generally lack combat experience.
The recruits are given just a few weeks of training, armed, and flown to Syria via the Iraq–Syria–Iran air bridge. These soldiers are used as shock troopers, spearheading numerous important pro-government offensives alongside Iranian, Iraqi, and Hezbollah troops. Most of them operate as light infantry, although some receive more thorough training and can work as tank crews.
Parts of Liwa Fatemiyoun have been trained by the Russian Armed Forces
As the unit is often used in those war zones where the most intense fighting takes place
despite its sometimes inadequate training,
observers believe that Liwa Fatemiyoun fighters often act as "cannon fodder
By 2020, analysts such as Philip Symth argued that the "cannon fodder" troops of the unit had been mostly weeded out, leaving only a hardened core of fighters.
Accusations of war crimes
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Last edited on 9 May 2021, at 17:25
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