December 10, 2013 | Quote
Afghan Militants Join Syria’s Civil War, As If It Wasn’t Awful Enough
As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gained the upper hand over an internal uprising in the past year, he received a major boost from his allies across the Middle East. The Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite militias, and Iranian military advisors, have all been key in turning the tide of the battle. Now, it appears a new group has entered the fray on the side of the Assad regime: Shiite fighters from Afghanistan.
After a dozen years in Afghanistan and thousands of Americans lives lost, the United States also finds itself in an awkward position by the flow of foreign fighters to Syria. While the U.S. occupation of the country was intended to pave the way for the eradication of lawless militias, fighters from Afghanistan are now engaged on both sides of the Syrian conflict. In addition to the Afghan Shiite fighters, a small number of Afghan jihadists have also joined the rebel cause. This dynamic is even clearer in Iraq, where Shiite militias and Sunni jihadists have also joined the Syrian battle – reopening old sectarian wounds and threatening the fragile stability back home.
Now, the Syrian war may be helping to bring these same Sunni-Shiite animosities to Southeast Asia. At the behest of Saudi Arabia, Pakistani military trainers have already been employed to train Syrian rebels – even as Pakistan struggles with sectarian violence that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Shiites over the past year. One Pakistani source cited this violence as one of the most important reasons that Islamabad could not intervene more aggressively in Syria, saying simply, “They have their hands full.”
“Facilitating Afghans volunteers for the Shia cause in Syria not only means a response to Saudi mobilization of transnational Sunni radicals to overthrow Bashar al-Assad's regime,” said Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow focused on the IRGC at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish American think tank. “[I]t also provides combat experience to Afghan Shia whose country most likely will descend into another dark war by proxy when the U.S. forces leave Afghanistan.”