Generals killed in Syria as Iran builds up forces

Friday 23/10/2015
He was considered an exceptional tactical leader

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.