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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Video Offers Glimpse of Syria’s War Through the Eyes of Iranian Military Advisers

Iranian military advisers have reportedly been operating in Syria for some time, training forces loyal to Iran’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad. Until this week, however, there was little tangible evidence of their presence. That changed when Syrian rebels overran troops trained by Persian-speaking advisers and captured what looks like footage of the Iranians recorded by a cameraman embedded with their unit.

In a report based on the footage broadcast Friday on NOS, the Dutch television network, one of the advisers could be seen on camera denying that “the Syrian army is at war with the people.” The war in Syria, he explained, “is that of Islam versus the nonbelievers. Good versus evil.”

A Dutch television report, with English subtitles, on Iranian military advisers in Syria, produced by Roozbeh Kaboly for the program “Nieuwsuur.”

The adviser went on to describe the Iranian role in a proxy war in Syria drawing fighters and support from many other countries. “This front is supported by Hezbollah. The fighters are Iranians, Hezbollah, the Iraqi and Afghan Mujahideen and others. The opponents are Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar… funded by the Emirates, plus America, England, France and Europe.”

Roozbeh Kaboly, a producer for the NOS program “Nieuwsuur,” told The Lede that he had obtained the footage from a Syrian rebel brigade that claimed to have captured the video after killing a number of Iranian advisers in battle last month. (The brigade made the same claim in an interview with Al Jazeera.) The footage, which is of high quality and includes interviews, seems to have been recorded for an unfinished documentary on a group of Iranians advising a pro-government militia outside Aleppo.

In addition to an earlier NOS report, the footage of the Iranian advisers was also included in broadcasts by Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera English, and the BBC. More of the raw footage of the advisers was also uploaded to the YouTube channel of the rebel brigade that provided it to the broadcasters. Access to those clips was later restricted, but the footage was copied and made available by the British blogger Eliot Higgins, who writes as @Brown_Moses on Twitter.

Copies of six video clips showing Iranian military advisers in Syria, originally uploaded to the YouTube channel of a Syrian rebel brigade and then duplicated by Eliot Higgins, a British blogger who writes as Brown Moses.

Government-imposed restrictions on independent reporting imposed by the Syrian government, and the dangers of the battlefield, make it difficult to independently verify rebel claims about the footage, but several pieces of evidence suggest that it is authentic. Some of the footage does show the advisers and the cameraman coming under attack and video posted on YouTube by the rebel brigade that provided the footage of the Iranians to the media seems to show them fighting late last month in a similar-looking location.

Video posted online by Syrian rebels, said to show Iranian military advisers and Syrian fighters under attack outside Aleppo last month.

In addition, Mr. Kaboly drew The Lede’s attention to a report in the Iranian media that showed mourners in Iran attending the funeral of the adviser featured in the footage discussing his work in Syria.

A screenshot from an Iranian news site showed the funeral of an Iranian military adviser killed in Syria last month. A screenshot from an Iranian news site showed the funeral of an Iranian military adviser killed in Syria last month.

As an analysis of the footage from the site EA Worldview notes, some reports in Iran described the adviser featured in the footage as a documentary filmmaker, and another man, also described as an Iranian filmmaker working in Syria was reportedly killed at about the same time.