Afghan Special Forces soldiers, who fought alongside US forces and then fled to Iran after the US chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, are now being recruited by the Russian military to fight in Ukraine, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Three former Afghan generals told the Associated Press that the Russians want to lure thousands of ex-Afghan commandos into a “foreign legion” that offers a fixed salary of $1,500 a month and promises a safe haven for themselves and their families so they can avoid deportation. Home to what many believe will be death at the hands of the Taliban.
“They don’t want to fight – but they don’t have a choice,” said one of the generals, Abdul Raouf Arghandiwal, adding that the dozens or so of commandos in Iran he had messaged feared deportation the most.
They ask me: give me a solution? what should we do? If we go back to Afghanistan, the Taliban will kill us.”
Argandiwal said that the recruitment process is carried out by the Russian mercenary force Wagner Group.
Another general, Hebatullah Alizai, the last Afghan army commander before the Taliban took over, said the effort is also being helped by a former Afghan special forces commander who lived in Russia and speaks the language.
The Russian recruitment comes after months of warnings from US soldiers who fought with Afghan special forces that the Taliban were bent on killing them and that they might join US enemies to survive or out of anger at their former ally.
A Republican report to Congress in August specifically warned of the danger that Afghan commandos — trained by the US Navy and the Army’s Green Berets – could end up providing information about US tactics to, or fighting for, the Islamic State, Iran or Russia. .
“We didn’t get these people out as promised, and now they’re going home,” said Michael Mulroy, a retired CIA officer who served in Afghanistan. “I honestly don’t want to see them on any battlefield, but I certainly don’t fight the Ukrainians.”
Mulroy was skeptical, however, that the Russians would be able to persuade many of the Afghan commandos to join them because most of them knew they were motivated by a desire to make democracy work in their country rather than as guns for hire.
The conscription comes as Russian forces falter from Ukraine’s military advance and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues a faltering mobilization effort, prompting hundreds of thousands of Russian men to flee the country to escape the service.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Spokesman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who recently admitted to being the founder of the Wagner Group, dismissed the idea of an ongoing effort to recruit former Afghan soldiers as “crazy nonsense.”
The US Department of Defense also did not respond to a request for comment, but a senior official noted that the recruitment was not surprising given that Wagner had been trying to recruit soldiers in several other countries.
It was not clear how many Afghan special forces personnel who fled to Iran were received by the Russians, but one of them told the AP that he is communicating through a WhatsApp chat service with about 400 other commandos who are considering offers.
He said many like him fear deportation and are angry at the United States for abandoning them.
“We thought they might create a special program for us, but no one thought of us,” said the former commando, who asked not to be identified because he feared for himself and his family. “They left us all in the hands of the Taliban.”
The commando said his offer included Russian visas for him, his three children and his wife, who are still in Afghanistan. Others have been offered to extend their visas in Iran. He said he is waiting to see what others in the WhatsApp groups decide but thinks many will accept the deal.
American veterans who fought with Afghan special forces described to the Associated Press nearly a dozen cases, none of which have been independently confirmed, of the Taliban going door-to-door in search of commandos still in the country, torturing or killing them, or They do the same with family members if they can’t be found anywhere.
HRW said more than 100 former Afghan soldiers, intelligence officers and police were killed or forcibly “disappeared” just three months after the Taliban took over despite promises of amnesty.
In its mid-October report, the United Nations documented 160 extrajudicial executions and 178 arrests of former government and military officials.
The brother of an Afghan commando in Iran who accepted the Russian offer said the Taliban’s threats made it difficult to refuse. He said that his brother had to hide for three months after the fall of Kabul, and moved between the homes of his relatives while the Taliban searched his house.
“My brother had no other choice but to accept the offer,” said the commando’s brother, Murad, who gave his first name only for fear of being pursued by the Taliban. “This was not an easy decision for him.”
Former Afghan army chief Alizai said that much of Russia’s recruitment efforts are focused on Tehran and Mashhad, a city near the Afghan border where many have fled. The generals who spoke to the AP, including the third, Abdul-Jabbar Wafa, said none of their acquaintances in Iran were aware of how many accepted the offer.
One text message sent to Arghandiwal by a former Afghan soldier in Iran reads: “You get military training in Russia for two months, then you go to the battle lines.” A number of employees have left, but have completely lost touch with their families and friends. The exact statistics are not clear.
An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Afghan special forces fought with the Americans during the two-decade war, and only a few hundred senior officers were airlifted when the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan.
Since many Afghan commandos did not work directly with the US military, they were not eligible for special US visas.
“They fought really until the last minute. They never spoke to the Taliban. They never did. They never negotiated,” Alizi said. “Leaving them behind is the biggest mistake.”
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