Counter-Terrorism: No One Expects The Fatemiyoun Brigade


March 1, 2024: American airstrikes continue to be used against Afghan mercenaries serving in the Iranian Fatemiyoun Brigade to battle for Shia Islam. These Shia Afghans join the brigade for the money, which is $500 a month. That is a lot more than they could make back in Afghanistan. Currently Iran is using Fatemiyoun Brigade members to fight in Syria against groups hostile to Iran. That includes American soldiers and, when brigade members succeed in killing one or more Americans, the United States retaliates and usually kills a lot more brigade members. The most recent American air strike was in January 2024 and 12 Brigade members were killed in Syria because a recent attack across the border in Jordan killed three Americans.

The brigade was formed in 2014 to fight in the Syrian civil war that began in 2011, is still active and still composed of about 20,000 Shia Afghan men, most recruited Afghan refugees living in Iran. The brigade works for the Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) Quds Force. For the IRGC their main task is to keep the Iranian religious dictatorship in power. The Quds Force handles Iranian troublemaking in foreign countries. The IRGC has been accused of seeking to expand its own control over Iran. The Quds Force are the enforcers of IRGC foreign policy in other countries, particularly Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Iran and the IRGC honor dead brigade members as Iranian heroes. One of the death benefits of brigade members is that their surviving family members get resident permits to stay in Iran. These permits enable family members of deceased brigade members to get jobs in Iran and attend schools and universities.

Iranian media that is controlled by the IRGC publicizes and praises dead brigade members. Publicly, Iran denies any involvement or association with brigade activities. After all, any brigade members killed are Afghans, not Iranians. After a decade of existence, anything Iran says about brigade activities has to be double checked for accuracy because Iran uses the brigade as a proxy force. The brigade does Iranian dirty work and the Afghan members of the brigade take the blame. This is what Iran tells the UN and foreign countries. Iran always denies any association with the brigade and its Afghan members. Hardly anyone believes this anymore and international organizations like the UN and the World Bank dismiss any efforts by Iran to shift responsibility for violence, committed on Iranian orders, to the Afghans in the brigade. Despite this deception effort, Iranian mass media covers the funeral or commemorative ceremonies held in Iran by families of deceased brigade members. Iran will do all it can to return bodies to the families of brigade members killed in action. These families live in Iran.

Iranian denials of any association with the brigade is causing problems with the Afghans serving in the brigade. These men accuse Iran of taking advantage of the brigade members and not honoring brigade sacrifices while working for Iran. For example, Iranian officials deny that any military personnel linked to Iran were among the casualties after Americans air strikes. Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations tells the U.N. Security Council that Iran has no connection to the Fatemiyoun Brigade bases attacked in Iraq and Syria. Iranian diplomats at the UN accuse the U.S. of falsely blaming Iran and deny that people killed in American airstrikes have anything to do with Iran and that only innocent civilians, rather than members of the Fatemiyoun Brigade had been killed.

The IRGC did not issue statements acknowledging the deaths of the Afghans under their command as they typically do when Iranian forces are killed, nor did any official threaten to avenge the deaths. Yet Iranian media cover the families of dead brigade men who are brought back to Iran for funerals. Iranian media publish pictures and videos of the funerals and deny to foreigners that this has anything to do with the Iranian government. This is the case even when the Fatemiyoun Brigade flag is displayed at funerals.

The Afghans living in Iran and providing the men to serve in the brigade accuse Iran of dishonoring the funerals of brigade members killed fighting for Iran. These Afghan are told privately that if they disagree with how Iran is dealing with publicity about the brigade, they can simply go back to Afghanistan. Some families have done this, but not always as a protest against Iranian mistreatment. Many Afghans are returning to Afghanistan as part of an Iranian effort to establish control over western Afghanistan areas where most of the Afghan Shia live. The Afghan government is not happy with this but since the Americans left in 2021, the new Afghan government has a lot less ability to deal with foreign intruders or local rebels.

Some Afghans, including members of the Quds Force, are angry at the way the Iranian government deals with deaths of brigade members. There is often no mention in the Iranian media of these deaths. Some Quds force members criticize the silence of the Quds Force officials about brigade deaths.

Most of the Afghans who fled to Iran over the years were Shia Hazaras, one of the largest ethnic minorities in Afghanistan. At home in Afghanistan, the Hazaras were among the natural allies of American forces because they shared common enemies in the Taliban and in Al Qaeda. But in the convoluted landscape of the Middle East today, they are now aligned with Iran and seeking to chase American forces out of the region.

In Syria, the Fatemiyoun Brigade often played a leading role in fighting Islamic terror groups like al Qaeda and ISLI. These Islamic radical groups initially has some success in taking control of territory in eastern Syria and western Iraq, including some major cities. The Fatemiyoun Brigade played a generally unheralded role in driving the Islamic terrorists out of these areas. Meanwhile the brigade has suffered over 10,000 casualties over the years, including 3,000 dead. Most of the casualties were suffered in Syria. In 2019 the American government declared the brigade a terrorist organization.

The Fatemiyoun Brigade forces outside of Iran often serve as stops for Iranian trucks moving weapons, including UAVs, missile components and other tech from Iran to Lebanon via Iraq and Syria to Hezbollah bases in Lebanon. American and Israeli airstrikes regularly bomb brigade bases in Syria, often killing brigade members in the process. These dead are usually described as Iranians and not Afghan members of the Fatemiyoun Brigade. Iran does not want to publicize the brigade or their role in creating and sustaining it. The Quds Forces take the lead in maintaining this deception. So far it is working, and brigade members continue to die in obscurity.



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close