Afghan boys as young as 10 are being recruited by Iran to go fighting alongside regime forces or militia groups in Syria, according to a New York Times article, and most of the recruits are said to be immigrants looking for work.
Buses full of workers are crossing the Afghan-Iranian border every day and while many flee Afghanistan in search of work, some make the journey in order to volunteer for the Syrian regime and benefit from one advantage: They are less likely to be deported back to Afghanistan.
Many of these young Afghan fighters are Shiite Muslims from the Hazara ethnic minority and are now fighting in brigades supporting Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Iran has been one of the main backers of Assad’s regime since the start of the Syrian civil war five years ago.
Among the recruits are also men as old as 50.
According to the NY Times article, Khadija, a woman whose son had joined Afghan brigades fighting for the Syrian government, claimed that he had been pulled into the vicious conflict for the same reasons most of the young men from the community had decided to go: “He could not find work.”
With their trips to Syria arranged by the Iranian army, the Afghan fighters are dispatched to battlefronts such as Aleppo and Homs, where according to Iranian state news media many young Afghans have been killed over the past year.
A video clip that surfaced on the Internet last year showed a number of fighters who said they were Afghans and captured by Syrian rebel fighters.
BBC quoted many Afghan asylum seekers in Greece claiming that Iranian authorities were sending undocumented migrants to fight in Syria.
In a special report, BBC quotes a 24-year-old Afghan who had spent two months fighting in Syria after being recruited and trained in a military camp in Iran.
Thousands of Iran’s own revolutionary guards and veteran soldiers are also reported to have traveled to Syria to defend the Assad regime against rebel groups.