Ali Reza Tavassoli, the Afghan Shiite commander of the “Fatimiyoun Brigade” in Syria and one of the most important pro-Tehran militia leaders, was killed in Dera’a on Feb. 28, Iranian media sources announced, according to a report by the Al-Arabiya news channel.1 Tavassoli was also known to be very close to Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian commander of the “Quds Force,” part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that oversee the training and support of pro-Iranian forces around the globe, and who has been implicated in the civil wars in Syria and Iraq.
The “Fatimiyoun Brigade” (the name refers to the Shiite Fatimid Caliphate which ruled parts of the Middle East and North Africa from 909 to 1171) first made its appearance in Syria in 2014 during the battles near the Sayyida Zaynab Mosque in the southern suburbs of Damascus. Tavassoli was appointed by Soleimani as commander of the brigade as part of the “Soleimani plan”2 to recruit 150,000 Shiite volunteers from around the globe, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
The brigade draws its members from Shiite Afghani refugees living in Iran belonging to the Hazara people. The Hazara are Persian-speaking and make up the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, forming about 20 percent of the total population. Brigade members’ families are promised permanent residency in Iran, on condition that the members stay to fight in Syria for more than six months. Tavassoli and six others combatants were due to be buried in the Iranian city of Mashad.
Although Syria has witnessed foreign volunteers coming from central, eastern and southeast Asia since the beginning of the civil war, this is the first mention of Iranian-trained, -armed and -sponsored regular Afghan units fighting in Syria, and especially in southern Syria. The intervention of the Afghan brigade, a fully Iranian-operated unit belonging to the Revolutionary Guards and under the command of the “Quds Force,” together with Hizbullah-Syria and forces loyal to Assad, illustrates the great importance Iran is giving to retrieving the terrain that faces Jordan and Israel which was lost to the rebels.
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