World News

Iran's army denies direct involvement in Syria, speaks of 'volunteers'

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s army chief said on Wednesday the forces it had deployed in Syria in the first such operation abroad since the 1979 revolution were volunteers working under Revolutionary Guards supervision, and the regular army was not directly involved.

The Islamic Republic announced this month that it had sent commandos from the army’s Brigade 65 to Syria as advisers, suggesting it was using its regular army as well as forces from the elite Revolutionary Guards to help President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the country’s civil war.

Iran is Assad’s main regional ally and has provided military and economic support for his conflict with rebel groups and Islamic State militants.

“Some volunteers have been sent to Syria, under the supervision of the related organisation, and among them there might be some of the Brigade 65 forces,” armed forces chief Ataollah Salehi was quoted by the Tasnim news agency as saying.

“The army has no responsibility in the military advice given to Syria,” Salehi added.

Tasnim reported on April 11, shortly after the announcement of the Brigade 65’s deployment, that four Iranian combatants had been killed in Syria.

Iran has two armed forces - a regular army serving as a national defence force, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that was created after the revolution to protect the Islamic Republic against both internal and external adversaries.

Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Guards’ foreign operations, went to Moscow in July last year to help Russia plan its military intervention in Syria and forge an Iranian-Russian alliance to support Assad.

Soleimani was in Moscow again last week to further cooperation on Syria, security sources said. Several said Soleimani also wanted to talk about how Russia and Iran could help Damascus take back full control of the city of Aleppo.

Iranian personnel sent to help prop up the Syrian army have at times sustained serious losses and Soleimani has been reported to be spending time in Syria to help coordinate operations.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Mark Heinrich