Iranian recruitment of Afghan citizens for the Syrian battlefield is depriving the Afghan National Security Forces potential recruits to fuel the war against the Taliban, NATO officials told the Stars and Stripes.
The practice fulfills two Iranian strategic priorities, it provides valuable soldiers to the Assad regime on the Syrian battlefield and it prolongs NATO involvement in Afghanistan. NATO is committed to supporting the Afghan defense forces against the Taliban, and has pledged to keep giving them billions of dollars until 2020.
Iran has been heavily recruiting from the western province of Herat, which reportedly has some of the lowest Afghan defense recruitment numbers in the entire country. “If Afghanistan recruiting command can’t keep pace, that’s a problem,” U.S. Army Colonel Steve Lutsky told Stars and Stripes.
Lutsky however did not fault Afghans for joining Iran’s efforts in Syria. “Iran pays better than the Afghan army, and you don’t have to potentially fight your family members,” he explained. Iran also reportedly offers the Afghan fighters permanent residence in Iran along with their family members in exchange for joining the fight in Syria. Iran currently has nearly 1 million registered Afghan refugees, according to United Nations.
The U.S.-led NATO effort will continue to fund Afghan security forces at a full strength level. The funding will continue despite reports by numerous watchdog organizations that many Afghan security forces exist only on paper. These forces are referred to as “ghost police” and are a method of extracting billions of dollars in aid from the U.S. and its allies.
The Afghan defense forces have suffered record casualties since the end of the NATO combat mission in 2014. The casualty rise coincides with the largest territorial gains by the Taliban since the U.S. invasion in 2001. The Taliban have concentrated their efforts on Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, but are eyeing territory neighboring the Iranian border. If the Iranian recruitment efforts continue, Afghanistan may not be able to challenge Taliban gains in the West.
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