Engels previous blamed the kidapping on Shia pro-Assad forces
Engels previous blamed the kidapping on Shia pro-Assad forcesReuters

Syria's Defense Minister General Fahd al-Freij began a visit Tuesday to key ally Iran to discuss cooperation between the two countries' armies, Syria's official news agency SANA said.

The trip to Tehran comes after a series of recent military losses for President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which is battling an uprising that began more than four years ago.

During the two-day visit, Freij and his Iranian counterpart will discuss "strengthening coordination and cooperation between the two allied militaries particularly in tackling terrorism and common challenges in the region."

The Syrian government labels all those seeking Assad's overthrow "terrorists", while ironically not doing so for proscribed international terrorist groups funded by Iran, such as Hezbollah.

The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests but spiralled into a war after a regime crackdown.

More than 220,000 people have been killed and half the country's population displaced by the conflict.

Tehran has remained a staunch backer of Assad's government, offering military advisers and trainers, weapons, and credit lines to bolster his regime.

It has also helped raise a pro-regime militia known as the National Defense Forces (NDF), comprised largely of members of Syria's Allawite, Christian and Shia minorities, to supplement the regime's badly overstretched regular army,

Iran has also provided crack troops from its Revolutionary Guard Corps. But despite the wealth of evidence that Iranian troops are taking an active role in combat operations, Assad denied in a recent interview that Iran had dispatched any troops to Syria.

Assad did, however, admit that his government asked Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group to support pro-regime forces on the battlefield. 

Hundreds of Hezbollah fighters are said to have died fighting rebels even according to the most conservative estimates.

"We invited Hezbollah, we didn't invite the Iranians. They're not here, they didn't send any troops," Assad told France 2 television last week.

"We have regular relations for more than three decades. We have commanders, officers coming and going between the two countries. This is the kind of cooperation that existed for a long time. This is different from fighting."

AFP contributed to this article.