Poverty, religious fervor push Afghans to join Iran’s war in Syria

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Iran recruits Afghan youths, calling them Fatemiyun, for its wars abroad.
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Updated 24 September 2017
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Poverty, religious fervor push Afghans to join Iran’s war in Syria

KABUL: An Afghan soldier who is killed in action gets barely enough compensation to cover the funeral expense. A wounded soldier receives far less.
But the package Iran offers Afghans to fight in Syria is far more attractive: Permanent residency for the deceased’s family, accommodation and several years of monetary support for the household. A wounded Afghan mercenary receives more or less the same.
This attracts desperate and jobless Afghan refugees in Iran, as well as many in Afghanistan, to fight in support of the Syrian regime.
The main source of recruitment in Afghanistan is the peaceful yet impoverished parts of the central highlands with a predominantly Shiite population.
Some 700,000 Afghans reportedly live illegally in Iran, besides nearly a million registered refugees. This collectively provides Tehran with a breeding ground for recruitment.
Abdul Hameed, 19-year-old school graduate from Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province, fought in Syria.
Jobless and frustrated at home, he went to Iran in 2012 aged 14 and managed to get a job. But after working for a year as a laborer, he became jobless again and his savings ran out.
The war in Syria was at its peak in 2014, and a group of Afghans serving Iran’s government gave him an offer to go to Syria, which he accepted without hesitation.
“The proposal was approximately $300 a month, permanent residency in Iran and other concessions depending on whether I’d die, get injured or return safe,” Hameed told Arab News.
“We were sent by plane from Iran to Syria and settled in Aleppo. The process of recruitment isn’t compulsory. Iran doesn’t force you to go to Syria.”
In Aleppo, Hameed met fighters from other Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon. Separate camps were designated for each country, he said.
“The Afghans were called Fatemiyun, the Pakistanis were named Zainebiyun, and the Iraqis were called Haidaris. There were 12 Iranian commanders who provided training or gave commands.”
Before joining the battlefield, the recruits undergo training involving small and heavy weaponry, as well as land mines, said Hameed.
That would be followed by a short trip to Iran, then back to Syria to face groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
“They’re beheading people and destroying our (Shiite) mosques and holy places. I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” Hameed said. Fighters from Pakistan travel overland to Iran and are then flown to Syria, he added.
Hameed’s time in Syria came to an end when one night, a large number of Afghan fighters came under sudden attack from militants.
“There was a massive attack against us. We couldn’t resist. Some 200 Afghans died that night alone,” he said.
“Me and 30 others were injured and taken to hospital in Syria, then transferred to a hospital in Iran for a month.”
After his recovery Hameed stayed in Iran for three months, but then returned home to his family, who were completely unaware of his trip to Syria.
“I was given a 10-year residency permit in Iran, but I declined it and returned home last year,” he said. Hameed has a baby now, but is jobless again.
An Afghan government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News: “This is a highly sensitive issue. If the government give figures and comments, Daesh will turn its attention toward Afghanistan, viewing it as the ground from where Shiites go to Syria to fight them.”
Daesh’s affiliates in Afghanistan have frequently targeted Shiite congregations and mosques in recent years.
There is no public record of when Iran began recruiting Afghans or how many have been recruited.
But Waheed Mozhad, an Afghan analyst and writer, said the number of fighters who have gone back and forth is around 10,000, and recruitment began in 2013.
Safora, a female lawmaker from Bamiyan, said some Shiite clergy in Afghanistan have aided recruitment.
“Poverty and desolation have forced people from central areas of Afghanistan to go to Syria,” she told Arab News.
“We’re totally against it, but people need food and other necessities for their families, so they go for it,” she said.
“I know people from different provinces who lost their sons in the war in Syria. I know some families who went to Iran, to get a house and other concessions promised by Tehran, after they lost a family member in Syria,” she added.
“Unfortunately, the Afghan government has done nothing to stop this recruitment or confront Tehran over the issue.”


Gaza field hospitals prepare for another day of bloodshed

Updated 57 min 5 sec ago
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Gaza field hospitals prepare for another day of bloodshed

  • At least 33 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the ‘Great March of Return’ began last month
  • Gaza suffers from a lack of medical facilities and supplies as a result of an 11-year land, sea and air blockade by Israeli forces

GAZA: A tent consisting of nine beds and some basic medical equipment is all that will serve as a field hospital in the Zeitoun area of Gaza when Palestinians gather at the Israeli border to take part in a mass protest against the occupation on Friday.

Eleven doctors and 12 nurses work at the facility during what has become a weekly ritual of defiance and bloodshed for the people of this besieged coastal enclave. With access to only rudimentary supplies, the staff must deal with injuries caused by live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas.

When Arab News visited the hospital southeast of Gaza City last week the sound of ambulances rushing back and forth was almost non-stop as the medics worked tirelessly amid the chaos. But no one expects any respite in the month ahead, with the protesters due to return every Friday until mid-May.

“In one hour we have received more than 30 injuries, about 26 of which are to the lower limbs and from live bullets,” said Khalil Siam, a doctor who works at the hospital from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Gaza’s “Great March of Return” began on March 30, when tens of thousands of protesters traveled in buses from across the strip to five locations along the Israeli border. 

The demonstration was timed to coincide with “Land Day,” an annual event when Palestinians remember the deaths of six Arab citizens killed by Israeli forces during demonstrations over land confiscations in northern Israel in 1976. It is due to continue until May 15, when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or catastrophe — the creation of
Israel.

On the first day of the protest at least 17 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,000 were injured as Israeli troops opened fire on the huge crowds, causing the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to call for “an independent and transparent investigation.”

Then on April 6 several more Palestinians were killed as protesters threw stones and set fire to piles of tires at the border, sending thick clouds of black smoke spiralling into the air.

A handful of field hospitals run by both volunteers and government doctors have been set up to deal with the constant stream of casualties each Friday, but they struggle to cope. Protesters critically wounded in the upper part of the body are rushed straight to Gaza’s main hospitals but staff here also find themselves increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the bloodshed.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, a total of 33 Palestinians have been killed and 4,300 have been injured between the start of the protests last month and April 14. Thirteen of the casualties have required amputations.

Even before the demonstrations began, Gaza suffered from a lack of medical facilities and supplies as a result of an 11-year land, sea and air blockade by Israeli forces and ongoing divisions between the two main Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, told Arab News that all hospitals were facing a situation of “severe attrition.”

“A large number of drugs and medical items have been drained from emergency departments, operating rooms and intensive care units due to the large number of casualties,” he said.

The Israeli government initially refused to allow injured protesters to be moved to the occupied West Bank until Israel’s High Court ruled unanimously on Monday that Yousef Al-Karnaz, a 19-year-old Palestinian, should be allowed to receive urgent medical care in Ramallah.

Al-Karnaz was shot and wounded by Israeli troops on March 30 but was not allowed to leave the strip. As a result, his left leg was amputated.

Ismail Al-Jadbah, director of the vascular department at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, told Arab News that the strip had enough doctors to cope with the casualties but lacked the necessary resources to give them the best possible care.

“In addition to a shortage of medicine, the large number of injured has put a great burden on us. Treating injuries in the right way, and in the right time, is very difficult,” he said.