KABUL -- A recent gathering of the Fatemiyoun Division in Mashhad, Iran, near the border with Afghanistan, has reignited concerns over the group's future activities in the country.
The Fatemiyoun Division is a militia made up of Afghans funded, trained and equipped by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and has an estimated strength between 12,000 and 14,000 fighters.
In addition to Fatemiyoun leaders and fighters, the heads of Iraqi, Lebanese and Bahraini Shia extremist groups that receive IRGC support attended the August 14 gathering.
"We will not be satisfied until we achieve the expulsion of the United States from the region and revenge for the death of [IRGC Quds Force commander Maj. Gen.] Qasem Soleimani," said Sayed Ilyas, a senior commander of the Fatemiyoun Division, summarising the apparent objective of the gathering.
But observers say the many speeches and statements during the gathering, ones that are often repeated by Fatemiyoun and Iranian regime media outlets, were a public cover for what Iranian leaders are really planning for the thousands of hardened Fatemiyoun fighters returning from war in Syria.
"This army of Mujahideen, for the sake of God, has very big goals and will not stop its jihad until ... the creation of a new Islamic civilization, the realisation of which was one of the pivotal orders of [Iran's Surpreme Leader] Imam Khamenei," continued Ilyas.
Nasra al-Shammari, the Assistant Secretary-General and official spokesperson for Harakat al-Nujaba, an Iran-backed Iraqi militia, told the Fatemiyoun gathering that part of the next phase in revolution was the "complete destruction of Israel and the expulsion of the United States and its mercenaries" -- a term that Fatemiyoun uses to describe the government in Kabul and Afghan forces.
"There are serious concerns that after the end of the war with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the Iranian government will send Fatemiyoun fighters to Afghanistan to pursue its military and political goals and use them against the interests of the United States and the Afghan government," said Abdul Qader Kamel, a political analyst in Herat city.
It is possible that the Fatemiyoun fighters will take part in the Afghan war and play a major role in killing Afghans and destroying the country's infrastructure, Kamel said.
In general, the Fatemiyoun Division is a serious threat to the security of Afghanistan and the region, he said.
"By using Fatemiyoun, Iran tries to harm the interests of United States and its allies in Afghanistan," said Sayed Ashraf Sadaat, a civil society activist in Herat city.
"The Fatemiyoun are heavily under the influence of the Revolutionary Guards, and Iran can use them in its proxy wars wherever it wants to," he said.
Activities in Afghanistan
Authorities in Herat have received reports that some illegal armed groups have been active in the province, a situation that has caused concern and angered local residents, said Kamran Alizai, chairman of the Herat Provincial Council.
"Our request of the government is to deal with these groups that have the support of foreigners seriously and decisively," he said. "If these groups are not stopped, their activities will increase day by day."
No illegal armed group supported by a foreign country or organisation will be allowed to operate in Herat Province, said Jilani Farhad, spokesman for the Herat governor, adding that security forces have the situation under control.
Security forces will deal firmly with any group that seeks to disrupt the security of Afghanistan and its people and pursue the objectives of foreigners, he said.
Even members of the Taliban, a rival of the Fatemiyoun Division, have raised concerns over the group.
Members of the Fatemiyoun Division have been placed in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar and Bamiyan and are pursuing Iranian objectives in Afghanistan, said Mullah Manan Niazi, the deputy commander of a Taliban splinter group under the leadership of Mullah Muhammad Rasool in Herat Province.
"We have identified the objectives of the Fatemiyoun Division in various provinces [of Afghanistan]," he said. "By creating the corrupt Fatemiyoun group, Iran is trying to start a civil war in Afghanistan."
Through formation of terrorist groups like Fatemiyoun, the Iranian regime has lit the fire of sedition in the region, as it has done in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, Niazi said.
"The Fatemiyoun Division is a serious threat to Afghanistan, but we will destroy it and will never allow it to operate," he said.
Exploiting poverty of the Afghan refugees
The latest fears over the Fatemiyoun Division come as the IRGC lures Afghan refugees in Iran to join the group with false promises of Iranian citizenship and of large sums of money.
Contrary to all human rights conventions, the IRGC even recruited children into the Fatemiyoun Division, a number of whom have lost their lives fighting for the Iranian proxy war in Syria.
All Afghans who have joined the Fatemiyoun have gone to war out of poverty or compulsion, said Hasan Hakimi, a civil society activist in Ghor Province.
Tehran has taken advantage of their poverty and difficult situation by involving them in its political and military game, he said.
"I spent two days with a former Fatemiyoun fighter who was sent to the war in Syria and is living in Kabul," Hakimi said. "He told me that the Iranian government paid him €400 (36,000 AFN) monthly to go to war in Syria."
If they were not suffering from severe poverty, none of the Fatemiyoun members would have agreed to fight for Iranian objectives in Syria or in any other country, he said.
"The Iranian government has promised Fatemiyoun fighters huge sums of money, housing and citizenship and will keep repeating its false promises as long as it can use these fighters," he said. "But when the fighters are killed or stop taking part in the war, it does not fulfil its promises."
In 2017, the Afghan government, taking issue with Iran's exploitation of Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries, called for the dissolution of the militia.