Afghan militiamen fighting in Syria under the command of Iranian officers systematically looted the homes of civilians in a border town in eastern Deir Ezzor Province following clashes with a Syria-regime allied militia, a local activist said Wednesday (October 17th).
The Fatemiyoun Division, a ragtag unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), withdrew from the town of Albu Kamal in the wake of clashes with the National Defence Forces (NDF) militia over control of the area.
The Fatemiyoun Division and the NDF ostensibly fight on the same side for the interests of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The NDF had been trying to move into al-Masaken area, a key position of the Fatemiyoun Division, whose fighters had been refusing to hand over the homes they occupied to their rightful owners and the NDF, local activist Jamil al-Abed said.
The Fatemiyoun Division said civilians could return, as long they maintained security control, but the suggestion was rejected by the NDF, he said.
Civilians who eventually re-entered their homes found them emptied of their contents, he added, as Fatemiyoun Division elements had looted them prior to and during their withdrawal.
IRGC expanding recruitment
The tension around this situation sparked fighting between the two sides, prompting the Fatemiyoun Division to round up and detain opponents from the the NDF.
Meanwhile, al-Abed said, a joint committee comprised of members of the Syrian regime's army and the regional command of the IRGC is currently in control of Albu Kamal and its environs.
The areas the Syrian regime controls in rural Deir Ezzor are small, he said, while the area controlled by the IRGC-affiliated militias has expanded.
The IRGC recently opened a recruitment centre in the town of al-Jalaa that is directly affiliated with Iranian regime representatives in Syria.
"Youth are lured and enticed with money and monthly salaries that exceed the salaries paid by Syrian regime army and the NDF," al-Abed explained.
In this way, the IRGC seeks to dominate recruitment efforts and prevent the Syrian army or the NDF from recruiting youth or having them fulfill their mandatory military service.
Opposing Iran's proxy war
Afghan officials are alarmed by Iran's ongoing recruitment of Afghan Shias for the Fatemiyoun Division to fight in Syria, as well as Tehran's blatant meddling in foreign countries and wars.
"Afghanistan is not a proxy war zone and battlefield for any country that disrupts our national unity, and we should prevent this proxy war," President Ashraf Ghani said September 18.
"Every Afghan who fights in a third country is guilty of committing a crime, according to the Afghan Penal Code," he said.
"Having Afghan nationals fight in Syria is against our national interests," Mohammad Asif Sediqi, deputy speaker of the Meshrano Jirga (upper house of parliament), told Salaam Times.
"In fact, it has jeopardised the security of Afghans and Afghanistan," he said. "The government must punish those individuals and prevent Afghans from fighting on behalf of Iran in Syria in whatever way possible."
[Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo and Sulaiman in Kabul contributed to this report.]