Iran Uses Syrian Battlefields to Train Military Officers
Voice of America News quotes Iranian media reports and spokesmen for the Syrian opposition to report that Iran is using the Syrian battleground to train its military officers.
Tehran-based Imam Hossein University, a school affiliated with The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said it recently deployed military leadership students to fight in Syria as part of an educational program designed for future officers, according to state-run media.
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 expanding far beyond the shrine area.
Morteza Saffari, a senior IRGC commander who heads “the brass hat division” at Imam Hossein University, said at least 100 students from the school have been dispatched to Syria for training in combat situations.
“Some of the students sent for two-month training sessions got martyred (killed), many were injured and some have been deployed in Syria for a longer period,” he told Iran’s Danshjoo news agency in a recent interview.
VOA news observes that Syria presents Iran with its first opportunity to give military officers front-line combat experience since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties. Revolutionary Guards Corps deputy commander Brig. General Hossein Salami boasted his forces have “gained technical and tactical advancements, militarily and in terms of intelligence collection” from their deployment to Syria. Extensive field testing of Iranian weapons was another benefit.
Syrian rebel commanders enter the VOA story to confirm that IRGC units have been involved in heavy Syrian combat, particularly around the long-besieged city of Aleppo. One rebel leader said Iran sent “many reinforcements to Aleppo, mainly new officers and students from its military academy.” A significant IRGC presence was also reported in Homs and in the suburbs of Damascus.
In an op-ed for McClatchy News on February 14, Andrew Malcolm argues that Russia is “using the Syrian civil war as a live-fire boot camp to train Iranian troops as the region’s dominant military force.”
“Iran’s concerted buildup, including sophisticated new Russian missile defenses, is expanding its armed influence toward tipping the Middle East’s balance of power adversely to American interests,” Malcolm warns. He notes that both Russia and Iran have rapidly cycled troops through the Syrian theater, aiming to give as many soldiers and commanders a taste of live-fire military experience as possible.