The US Treasury Department specifically targeted over 20 institutions that have directly funded Iran’s Basij Resistance Force, the paramilitary wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and thus increased Iran’s “malign” influence in the Middle East.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “This vast network provides financial infrastructure to the Basij’s efforts to recruit, train, and indoctrinate child soldiers who are coerced into combat under the IRGC’s direction.”
Human Rights Watch explains that the Basij frequently targets children of Afghan migrants in Iran – some as young as 14 – to recruit them in Iran’s army with promises of citizenship for them and their family or threats of deportation. The situation is made worse by the up to two million undocumented Afghans and one million Afghan refugees, who are increasingly vulnerable to the Regime.
Up to 4,000 Afghans are in the IRGC’s Afghan Liwa Fatemiyoun brigade, which is supposedly in Syria to defend the holy shrines, but is actually fighting to prop up the Bashar al-Assad regime. In fact, they are even deployed with little regard for casualties, often sent as first-wave infantry to the most difficult battles with little training.
One member of the Liwa Fatemiyoun, Hamid Ali, told Human Rights Watch that the IRGC’s Quds Force decided where and when the Afghan soldiers go. He reported that in one recent deployment, 400 Afghan soldiers were sent to the Iraqi border and given little support, which resulted in more than half of the men dying within days of their deployment.
He said: “They did not give us heavy artillery or anything other than our AK-47s.”
Many Liwa Fatemiyoun soldiers join because they think they are merely defending shrines, but seek to escape to Europe after being used as cannon fodder by the Iranian Regime. The BBC has even reported on former Liwa Fatemiyoun Afghan refugees in Lesbos and other refugee centres who hold on to their dog tags as evidence of their coerced service.
It is clear that so long as Iran continues its malign involvement in the Syrian civil war, it will continue to deploy child soldiers and other members of the Afghan minority.