May 02, 2017

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iran will provide military advisers to Syria for as long as necessary in support of President Bashar al Assad’s forces, a senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards was quoted on Tuesday as saying.

Iran has provided military support to Assad’s forces since at least 2012, but initially did not comment publicly on its role. But as the military support increased and Iranian casualties also rose, officials began to speak more openly.

“The advisory help isn’t only in the field of planning but also on techniques and tactics,” the Fars news agency quoted Mohammad Pakpour, head of the Revolutionary Guard ground forces, as saying. “And because of this the forces have to be present on the battlefield.”

“We will continue our advisory help as long as they (the Syrians) need it,” he added.

An Iranian official said late last year that more than 1,000 Iranians had been killed in the Syrian civil war. These include a handful of senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, according to Iranian media reports.

Iran has helped to train and organise thousands of Shi’ite militia fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Syrian conflict. Fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah are also working closely with Iranian military commanders in Syria.

Pakpour said the Revolutionary Guards’ ground forces were in Syria to help the Quds Force, the branch of the Guards responsible for operations outside of Iran’s own borders.

“There is very close coordination between the Syrian army and the Revolutionary Guards advisers,” Pakpour said.

Iran and Russia are Assad’s main allies in the conflict, while the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states support opposition groups seeking to overthrow him.

Russia’s intervention in the conflict has tilted it decisively back into Assad’s favour.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Gareth Jones)