Iran has deployed a contingent of special forces "commandos" to Syria, according to a senior Iranian military commander.
Speaking to Iran's official Tasnim News Agency, Lieutenant Commander of the Iranian Army Ground Force for Coordination Brigadier General Ali Arasteh said Tehran had dispatched a group of military "advisers" from the army's elite 65th Brigade.
Iran is the main backer of embattled Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and has already invested heavily in the Syrian civil war, including providing arms and training to the Syrian army and a range of loyalist militias; recruiting Shia jihadist fighters from Hezbollah, surrounding Arab countries and as far as Afghanistan; as well as by sending hundreds of Iranian fighters.
Despite often taking part in – and sometimes even commanding – frontline battles, Iranian troops in Syria are often described as "advisers" or "volunteers." Most have come from ideologically-rooted organs of the Iranian state such as the Revolutionary Guard or the Basij paramilitary, but the newest contingent from the 65th Brigade appear to be from Iran's regular armed forces.
More than a dozen Hezbollah and Iranian fighters were reportedly killed in recent clashes with jihadists, reflecting the role they play in backing the regime on the battlefield.
Arasteh told Tasnim that the Regular Armed Forces have also deployed elsewhere in Syria, and that Iranian soldiers "have been furnished with hand-launched Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)."
The latest Iranian deployment comes as Russia – Assad's other key backer – withdrew a large portion of its own forces, which had helped propel a major shift in fortunes for the regime.
The Iranian deployment may be a reflection of fears that with the scaling-down of direct Russian support, the regime may not have the capacity to hold territory it gained from the rebels.