Forty-eight Iranians held captive by Syrian rebels since August 2012 arrived in Tehran on January 9, 2013, after a prisoner exchange between rebels and Bashar al Assad’s government led to their release. Iran has consistently claimed that these hostages were “pilgrims” en route to the Sayyida Zeynab shrine in Damascus. Their captors, in contrast, have insisted that they are Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) personnel. The Syrian rebels’ claims were vindicated when Iranian media revealed the names of some of the hostages who hold active positions within the IRGC Ground Forces (GF). We can now confirm that Iran has been deploying training teams to Syria, drawn from some of its elite regular combat formations, similar in some respects to the advisory units the U.S. has sent to help train Iraqi and Afghan forces. Tehran is actively assisting and mentoring Bashar al Assad’s military in the suppression of its people.
The nature and significance of the hostages were apparent from the official party that met them on their return to Iran. Its members included Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular, Parliamentary and Expatriate Affairs Hassan Qashqavi and National Security and Foreign Policy Parliamentary Commission Chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi. Also on hand were several key commanders from the IRGC-GF, including its commander, Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, its deputy commander, Brigadier General Abdollah Eraghi, and the commander of its Artillery and Missiles formations, Brigadier General 2nd Class Mahmoud Chaharbaqi. Brigadier General Esmail Kowsari, a member of Iran’s parliament and a former commander of the strategically-vital IRGC unit stationed in Tehran, the Mohammad Rasoul-Allah unit, was also there. The hostages were apparently important senior leaders in the IRGC-GF.
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