Generals killed in Syria as Iran builds up forces
BEIRUT - Four Iranian generals, along with two leading Hezbollah commanders, have been killed in heavy fighting with rebel groups across Syria in recent days amid what appears to be a significant Iranian military build-up linked to Russia’s intervention in the multisided war.
The death of the Iranian commanders, along with other senior officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), testifies to the ferocity of the fighting in major offensives launched by the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad on October 7th.
Eight Iranian generals have been killed in Syria since 2013, the highest number the Islamic Republic’s military has suffered since the 1980-88 war with Iraq. These illuminate the unprecedented scale of the commitment by Tehran and its Lebanese proxy to ensure the survival of Assad’s shaky regime.
“The fact that you have a senior Iranian general [in the fighting] shows both the desperation of the regime as well as the degree of Iranian involvement now in Syria,” said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Iran and their Shia militias and Hezbollah are the ground component to Russia’s air involvement.”
The presence of senior commanders on the battlefield lends weight to persistent reports that about 2,000 Iranian troops, including for the first time regular IRGC units rather than just special operations troops of the Quds Force, are engaged in combat in Syria, with the possibility of more to come.
Brigadier-General Hossein Hamedani, a senior officer in the IRGC’s regular ground forces who was considered an exceptional tactical leader and commanded all Iranian-controlled forces in Syria, was killed October 8th fighting “takfiri terrorists” — Islamic State (ISIS) fighters — outside the northern city of Aleppo, Tasnim, an Iranian news agency affiliated with the IRGC, reported. ISIS is battling to take the contested city.
Hamedani, a veteran of the 1980- 88 war, is the most senior Iranian officer killed in foreign operations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The other fatalities include General Nader Hamid, a commander of the IRGC’s Basij militia, who died of wounds sustained in a gun battle on October 12th near the southern town of Quneitra in the Golan Heights partly occupied by Israel.
Hamid, was linked to the National Defence Forces, a 50,000-strong Syrian militia created and trained by Hezbollah to augment Assad’s depleted army and which, by all accounts, has degenerated into groups of marauding thugs.
Hamid was a close associate of Major-General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s elite al- Quds Force, which has been fighting in Syria since 2012, and is the mastermind behind clandestine Iranian operations in Syria and Iraq.
Soleimani, who helped plan the current Russian-Iranian operations, was spotted recently rallying Iranian and Hezbollah forces near the city of Aleppo, which is split between regime and rebel forces.
It is likely that Soleimani, another highly decorated veteran of the 1980-88 war, was in Syria to oversee the four offensives launched by Assad’s forces and their allies in northern and central Syria. Soleimani, who has personally intervened in several key battles in Iraq, answers directly to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Tabler says Soleimani played a major role in persuading the Russians to form a coalition with Iran to go to Assad’s rescue after a string of recent defeats and with planning the joint campaign now under way.
Apart from the IRGC forces in Syria, the Iranians have deployed thousands of Shia militiamen, including up to 2,000 fighters from Hezbollah.
There are as many as another 2,000 Shia fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in action against the regime and rival rebel groups.
The Iranians have stepped up their operations around Aleppo and in the neighbouring provinces of Idlib and Hama since the Russian air strikes began September 30th.
“I think Iran’s will supporting Syria has become firmer in the wake of Russian involvement and when you refer to Iranian agencies associated with the Guards, you see more reports of funeral ceremonies in recent weeks, especially among Iran-based Afghan expatriates,” observed Iranian military analyst Morad Veisi.