Afghanistan urges Iran to halt use of its nationals as mercenaries in Syria

The Afghan government says it opposes any kind of proxy war in the Middle East. (AP)
Updated 08 January 2018
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Afghanistan urges Iran to halt use of its nationals as mercenaries in Syria

KABUL: Afghanistan has called on Iran to stop sending Afghan refugees as mercenaries of its proxy war in Syria, after it was revealed that more than 2,000 Afghan combatants had been killed in the war so far.
“The Afghan government opposes any kind of proxy war. As we dismiss proxy war in Afghanistan, we announce our opposition to proxy war in other countries as well,” Shah Hussien Murtazawi, chief spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, told Arab News.
“The blood of this country’s sons should not be spilt to further the goals and expansionist designs of a few countries ... Afghan sentiments and vulnerabilities should not be exploited for their (Iran’s) goals and objectives.”
In a rare confession, an Afghan official with the “Fatemiyoun Brigade,” which is composed of Afghan Shiites recruited in Iran, at the weekend said that more than 2,000 Iranian-trained members of the force had lost their lives in support of Bashar Assad’s regime.
The official, Zohair Mojahed, who was quoted initially by Iranian media and later became a source for Afghan press too, said that more than 8,000 Afghans had been wounded during Syria’s five-year war.
Afghanistan, which has been locked in four decades of war and foreign interventions, said Iran needed to stop the practice.
Iran has not denied sending Afghan Shiites to war in Syria and Iraq. More than a million Afghan nationals, displaced by their country’s long war, have been living in Iran for decades.
To lure the Afghan refugees, Tehran has offered a series of concessions, such as accommodation, long-term stays in Iran and monetary concessions, in return for taking part in its war in the Middle East, according to former Afghan combatants.
Analyst Matiullah Kharoti said that Iran had used Afghan refugees to fight in its war against Iraq in the 1980s and in its current conflict in the Middle East by offering them incentives. “They are not fighting a sectarian war in the Middle East, but Iran is exploiting their desperation and poverty,” Kharoti told Arab News.
Murtazawi said Kabul was aware of the issue and was addressing it. It was hoping to see a result from its push to end the sending of Afghan refugees living in Iran. “We are in contact through various channels with the neighboring country (Iran) so that this matter is pursued. Talks are underway to get a conclusive outcome,” Murtazawi said.


Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 20 July 2019
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Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

  • Hazza Al-Mansoori 'living a dream' as he and backup astronaut train for space mission in September
  • Soyuz-MS 15 launch could be the beginning of a bold new era of Arab exploration of space

DUBAI: More than 30 years after an Arab first journeyed into space, an  Emirati is preparing to become the latest Arab space traveler when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in September.

For months, Hazza Al-Mansoori and backup pilot Sultan Al-Neyadi have been undergoing intensive training in Russia, Germany and the US to prepare for the mission. The first Emirati to travel into space will make the historic journey on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

During the eight-day mission, he will conduct a tour of the ISS for Arabic viewers on Earth and carry out 15 experiments for the Science in Space schools competition conducted by Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.

The crew, who will include an American and a Russian, are allowed to take up to 1 kg of personal items with them on the mission.

“I will take my family photo and share the experience of being in space with them,” Al-Mansoori said. There will also be an image of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, meeting American astronauts in 1976.

“I am also going to take an Emirati flag. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.”

‘I will take an Emirati flag into space. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.’

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori

Al-Mansoori will join an elite space club comprising Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman and Syria’s Muhammed Faris. Prince Sultan became the first Arab to travel to space as part of space shuttle Discovery’s crew in 1985. Faris was a crew member of USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987.

The Emirati astronaut is aware that history is resting on his shoulders. Speaking to the media recently during his training program in Houston, Al-Mansoori  said it is a huge personal honor to be the first Emirati chosen for space exploration.

“I’m excited about the whole mission, but especially to experience the microgravity and be living in the ISS, and conducting daily experiments and working with the amazing group on board,” he said.

Al-Mansoori and Al-Neyadi have been undergoing rigorous training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program includes familiarization with NASA equipment on board the space station, and handling emergency situations, such as ammonia gas leaks and depressurization.

The Emiratis have been trained to fend for themselves if the return goes off course and they land in the wilderness of Russia.

Speaking of the Soyuz-MS 15 mission, Yousuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “We strive to see the UAE Astronaut Program achieve its objective of preparing generations of Emiratis who will contribute to enhancing the country’s position in space science and research to serve the ambitious aspirations aimed at building a national knowledge-based economy.”

The September launch could prove to be the beginning of a bold new era for Arabs and space. Al-Neyadi, the backup pilot, has been promised a seat on a future mission, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are drawing up ambitious plans for the development of the region’s space industry.