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Iran reportedly paying Afghan refugees $500 a month to fight in Syria

Mideast Syria_Aleppo destruction jan 27.JPG

Jan. 23, 2014 - An anti-Bashar Assad activist group, Syrian residents and rescue workers check the rubble of houses damaged, attacked by the Syrian forces airplanes in Aleppo, Syria. (Aleppo Media Center, AMC)AP

Iran is recruiting Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, offering $500 a month and Iranian residency permits to help fight rebel forces, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Details of recruitment efforts by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were posted this week on a blog about Afghan refugees living in Iran and confirmed to the newspaper by Afghans and Western officials.  

"They give them everything from salary to residency," said an administrator at the office of Grand Ayatollah Mohaghegh Kabuli, an Afghan religious leader in the Iranian holy city of Qom. 

Iran is also offering the refugees school registration for their children and charity cards, according to the report. Officials told the Journal the effort is part of a strategy to send poor foot soldiers to the front lines and reduce casualties among Hezbollah and Guards members.

According to the Journal, the Afghan recruits, like Hezbollah, are Shiites and support President Bashar Assad's regime, which is dominated by minority Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Syria's conflict began with largely peaceful protests calling for reforms but transformed into an armed uprising and eventually a civil war following a ferocious military crackdown on protesters. More than 150,000 people have died since March 2011, and hundreds of thousands of people have been wounded and displaced by the war. 

Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for the U.N. mission to Iran, denied allegations that Iran is sending Afghan refugees to Syria as fighters. 

"Iranian presence in the country is solely advisory in nature in order to help counter the extremist...Al Qaeda groups from committing more massacre and bloodshed," he told the Journal.

But U.S. defense officials have said that fighters from around the region have become involved in Syria's civil war, and believe Afghan fighters have also joined in, according to the report.

"One of the most concerning aspects of the Syrian conflict from a U.S. security perspective is that it is attracting foreign fighters from across the region and around the world," Matthew Spence, a senior defense official, told Congress recently.

"We assess that there are now significantly more foreign fighters in Syria than there were foreign fighters in Iraq at the height of the Iraq war," he was quoted as saying.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here for more from The Wall Street Journal.