Tehran has sent thousands of Afghans and Pakistani Shi’a to the war in Syria to fight for its ally, President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran is keen on glorifying them as religious zealots sacrificing their lives to protect holy shrines while most are poor Afghan refugees and migrants recruited online or through a network of clerics.
They are lured by promises of glory, a good stipend, and the chance to contribute to protecting Shi’ite shrines in Syrian cities, but most of the poorly trained fighters end up becoming cannon fodder on the country’s dangerous front lines.
Current estimates suggest that the Fatemiyoun Division, mainly made up of members of the Afghan Shi’ite Hazara minority, number between 10,000 and 20,000. The Zainabyoun Brigade is much smaller and is believed to have up to 1,000 fighters recruited from among the Shi’ite communities in Pakistan’s western tribal areas.
To discuss the issue in-depth, Ahmad Shuja, an Afghan researcher who has probed the Fatemiyoun for years, joined us from Washington. Also joining from the same town was Ahmad K. Majidyar. As a Middle East and South Asia analyst at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington, Majidyar has followed Tehran’s effort to prop up transnational militant networks. I chipped in from Prague as usual while RFE/RL Media Manager Muhammad Tahir expertly stirred our conversation from Washington.
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The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.