Outrage over the carnage in Aleppo has so far been directed mainly at Damascus, but activists on the ground say Tehran has a top general on the scene and has established secret camps where Iraqi mercenaries are trained to root out rebels in the Syrian city.
According to information provided to FoxNews.com, the forces currently controlling the city of Aleppo are under the command of the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The military outfit under its command includes foreign mercenaries such as Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and also the Shiite fighters of the Liwa Fatemiyoun from Afghanistan and the Liwa Zainebiyoun from Pakistan.
At the same time, Iran participated in a summit in Moscow with Turkey and Russia to begin discussions on dividing up the spoils of the conflict now that Aleppo had fallen under merciless bombardment.
The meeting was further evidence of Iran’s emerging role in Syria, both during the ongoing civil war and the expected aftermath.
According to reports received by the opposition to the Iranian regime, the number of IRGC forces and its hired hands in Aleppo and the surrounding area has reached 25,000, while the number of military personnel from Assad’s army is very limited.
“This report leaves no doubt that the Iranian regime is the primary obstacle to any solution in Syria,” Shahin Gobadi, spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) told FoxNews.com. “The current situation in Aleppo and the role of the Iranian regime in the atrocities committed on the ground require the immediate expulsion of the IRGC and its mercenaries from Syria. By meddling in other countries the mullahs try to cover up their vulnerability at home. The survival of the [Iranian] regime has been intertwined with maintaining the Assad dictatorship in power in Syria.”
The reports, which were obtained by the NCRI and its sister organization People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), state that the commander of the Quds Force – as IGRC units operating outside Iran are known – in Aleppo is Brigadier General Javad Ghafari, who is described as the right-hand man of the Revolutionary Guard’s commander-in-chief, Qassem Soleimani, who has been referred to as the architect of Iran’s role in Russian operations in Syria, according to FoxNews.com
The MEK has established a track record of accurately reporting misdeeds by Tehran over the past decade, including its attempts to hide nuclear weapons-related facilities from UN inspectors, according to Middle East Eye.
The NCRI has also alleged that the Revolutionary Guard has established its main headquarters around 20 miles southeast of Aleppo in a garrison called Behuth, or Fort Behuth, which used to be one of the most important centers of missile and chemical weapon production for the Assad regime.
It is now under the supervision of Ghafari, but it also contains a center operated by Lebanese Hezbollah commanders, as well as a number of Syrian army officers who are also present, according to the intel reports.
“The fact is that Aleppo has been occupied by the IRGC and its mercenaries,” Gobadi said to FoxNews.com. “Mass executions, preventing the transfer of civilians including women and children, attacking the civilians – has all been done by the forces of the mullahs’ regime.
“[They] are the main source of crisis in Syria and the region,” he went on. “By abusing the inaction of the international community and being convinced of not being held accountable for its crimes, [Iran] has continuously become more emboldened.”
The U.N. puts the overall death toll in Syria’s civil war at 400,000. More than 30,000 have died in the Battle of Aleppo, a last urban rebel holdout against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The Institute for the Study of War, a nonprofit research group in Washington, has reported that Iran organized thousands of Shiite militias in Iraq not only to fight the Sunni Muslim Islamic State there, but also to deploy them to fight rebels in Aleppo.
The Washington Times recently interviewed Iranian dissidents who had escaped to Western Europe. They said Iran’s brutality at home and aboard has increased, not decreased, since the landmark nuclear deal with the U.S. that provided Tehran billions of dollars.
The MEK report provided to The Times says that Syrian government forces are scarce around Aleppo, meaning it is Iran doing the lion’s share of offensive maneuvers and killings.
“On two occasions the transfer of Aleppo residents were hindered and their buses were fired upon under the instructions of the IRGC to gain concessions on the residents [of] al-Foua and Kefraya,” said the MEK, referring to two towns north of Aleppo.
State Department spokesman John Kirby was asked Monday whether the U.S. will protest to the U.N. Security Council the fact that Gen. Soleimani has been spotted in Aleppo. The U.N. has banned him from international travel for his role in terrorism.
“We do intend to consult with our partners on the Security Council about how to address our concerns with this,” Kirby said. “We’ve long said that Iran needs to choose whether it’s going to play a positive role in helping peacefully resolve conflicts such as in Syria or whether it will choose to prolong them. And you’re absolutely right: His travel is a violation.”
Jim Phillips, a Middle East expert at The Heritage Foundation, said that Assad’s army is depleted and stretched thin protecting government-held territory.
“Without Iran’s expanding military intervention, the Assad regime would have fallen months ago,” Phillips said. “While Russia’s military intervention has dominated media coverage on Syria, Iran has been responsible for almost all of the ground offensives in recent months that clawed back territory from the rebels and encircled Aleppo. It has deployed thousands of Revolutionary Guards.”