Articles

Iran may bankroll pro-government fighters in Syrian conflict

The Syrian government has asked Iran to take over the supervision and payroll of thousands of Shi'ite militiamen fighting alongside Russian and Syrian troops in support of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a government source and a news report.


The pro-opposition Syrian news website Zaman Al Wasel reported that it obtained a Syrian defense ministry document saying the Assad regime has approved a plan to give Iran responsibility for paying foreign fighters – mostly Shi'ites of varying nationalities. Shi'ite fighters mostly are paid in cash from Iran, the Syrian government and coffers of the Lebanese-based, pro-Iranian Hezbollah, according to analysts.

Iran would foot the bill alone in the future, a Syrian official told VOA on the condition of anonymity, confirming the Al Wasel report.

"The number of Shia militia has increased dramatically during the last two months," the official said. "While a big part of these militia were recruited by Iran, a relatively big part was recruited by the Syrian government directly. We are speaking about more than 50,000 militants from different nationalities. The Syrian government requested that Iran provide for all of the mentioned militias."

The document from Al Wasel put the number of fighters to be paid at 88,733 — a figure analysts say is exaggerated. They estimate that about 10,000 Iranian combat troops are in Syria fighting alongside thousands of fighters from Lebanon's Tehran-affiliated Shiite militia Hezbollah and assorted Shiite militia made up of renegade Pakistanis, central Asians and other nationalities. Since January 2013, more than 1,000 members of Iran's elite Quds Force or other elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) units have been killed fighting in Syria.

Related: Russia denies funding the Taliban

Tehran says its forces are in Syria to protect the Zeinab Shrine in Damascus, a Shi'ite holy site. But since 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian regime in its war with rebel groups across the country, at first sending advisers, then forces from the IRGC and expanding far beyond the shrine area.

Iran has long expressed a desire to command a unified army in the region, particularly in Syria, and its growing power in Syria and Iraq is causing unease in Western capitals. In an interview with the Mashregh news agency last August, Mohammad Ali Falaki, an IRGC leader, announced formation of a unified army in Syria which appears to have come to loose fruition.

"It would hardly be abnormal for Iran's IRGC to be controlling yet more Shia jihadists," said Talha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute.

In the long run, the formation of a unified army in Syria under Tehran supervision appears very practical, analysts say.

"It seems plausible that the Syrian government shift the responsibility for management and organization of the militias, especially where financial burden is concerned," said Rasool Nafisi, a Middle East affairs expert in Washington.

Asserting its military prowess would help Iran push its political agenda in the region, some analysts believe.

"The bigger and more advanced army you control, the stronger voice you have," said Daryoush Babak, a Washington-based retired Iranian military adviser.

But unifying Assad supporters under Tehran's umbrella could worsen sectarian conflict in the region between Shi'ites and Sunni, analysts say.

Iran is looking for any chance to increase its influence and gain an upper hand against Saudi Arabia, its strongest rival in the war of minds and hearts, analysts say. Saudi Arabia and Iran support rival groups in Syria's civil war. And In a speech in Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump accused Tehran of contributing to instability in the region.

"Tehran and Riyadh … keep contradicting each other to prove whose ideology leads the region," said Nafisi.

While Syria has relied on Iran militarily in the fight against rebels and Islamic State, it's unlikely to grant Tehran a controlling foothold in the country, analysts say.

"In Syria, it is not likely to happen as long as the Assad regime harbors ambitions of regaining sovereignty rather than being reduced to an Iranian protectorate," said Alfoneh.

VOA's Noor Zahid contributed to this report.

International

What a Korean peace could mean for the nature preserve at the DMZ

The 2.5-mile wide, 148-mile long stretch of land that separates South Korea from North Korea is undoubtedly the most fortified border in the world. Landmines dot the land and each side is ready to destroy the other at a moment's notice.

The land between them, however, has been untouched by humans for roughly sixty years and, as a result, hosts a unique composition of flora and fauna. With recent peace talks between North and South Korea, this could all be in danger.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less

Travis Manion Foundation honors fallen Marine — and builds America at the same time

Travis Manion Foundation empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes while striving to strengthen America's national character. The non-profit was named for 1st Lt. Travis Manion, a Marine who was killed by an enemy sniper while saving his wounded teammates on April 29, 2007.

Today, Travis Manion Foundation exists to carry on the legacy of character, service, and leadership embodied by Travis and all those who have served and continue to serve our nation.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

4 reasons why 360-degree cameras should be on the battlefield

Within the last few years, 360-degree cameras have hit the market and they're changing the way we record our favorite memories. They may also have implications for how our nation fights its enemies.

When it comes to fighting a ground war, having as many sets of surveilling eyes as possible is a good idea — an idea that could save lives.

Keep reading... Show less
History

Why the Tokyo Raiders didn't bomb the Japanese emperor

In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was very angry and very eager to kick some ass — hence the decision to carry out the Doolittle raid. America wanted to take the fight to the enemy, and we wanted to do so as soon as possible.

Keep reading... Show less

11 memes that will remind you of living in the barracks

Living in a military barracks is an experience unlike any other. You'll either get stuck in an absolute sh*thole where nothing works or, by some crazy stroke of luck, you'll score a place in a little palace that has a functioning TV.

Regardless, you'll come away with some epic memories of dumb working parties and hilarious stories of trying to sneak temporary partners through your front door.

Keep reading... Show less
Lists

4 reasons why the quiet sergeants are the scariest ones

Many civilians have a twisted understanding of how the military operates. Honestly, it might be best not to correct them. Their minds would be collectively blown if they knew the magnitude of downtime and dumb things that happen to our nation's fighting men and women.

Keep reading... Show less

Everybody involved in that dino puppet reenlistment video just got fired

In the worst military overreaction since the Faber College ROTC pledge pin incident of 1962, the Tennessee National Guard's adjutant general announced April 18, 2018, that everyone involved in a recent viral video of a kooky reenlistment ceremony would have their careers wrecked, because that's how you honor our military traditions, dammit.

Keep reading... Show less