Following the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, Afghan special forces soldiers fled to Iran. Now, the Russian military is recruiting those troops to fight in Ukraine, according to the Associated Press. Three former Afghan generals have told the AP that Russian forces are attempting to recruit thousands of the former elite Afghan commandos by offering them a steady, $1,500 monthly salary as well as a haven for themselves and their families to avoid deportation home to their presumed death at the hands of the Taliban.
Abdul Raof Arghandiwal, one of the generals, says, “They don’t want to fight, but there is no option.” Arghandiwal added that most of the commandos he has texted in Iran fear deportation. I am asked to provide a solution to their problem. How should we proceed? Returning to Afghanistan would result in our deaths at the hands of the Taliban. The Russian mercenary group Wagner Group is responsible for recruiting, according to Arghandiwal.
The efforts are also assisted by a former Afghan special forces commander who lived in Russia and knows the Russian language, Hibatullah Alizai, the last Afghan army chief before the Taliban took over. Moreover, the recruitment of Russian soldiers follows months of warnings from U.S. soldiers who fought with Afghan Special Forces that the Taliban was intent on killing them and that they might join their enemies as a means of survival or as an expression of anger against their former allies.
Russian President Pursues a Sputtering Mobilization Effort
During an August congressional hearing, the Republican Party highlighted the danger that Afghan commandos – trained by the U.S. Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets – the Islamic State group, Iran, or Russia may be provided with information on US tactics. Michael Mulroy, a retired CIA officer who served in Afghanistan, said, “We did not achieve our promise of getting these individuals out. It’s now coming home to roost.” Mulroy added that Afghan commandos are highly skilled and fierce fighters.
It is not my intention to see them on any battlefields, but I am certainly not interested in seeing them engage in battle with the Ukrainians. He was skeptical that Russians could persuade many Afghan commandos to join them, as most of the Afghans he knew wanted to make democracy work in their country, rather than being guns for hire. Thousands of Russian men have fled their country to escape military service because of Ukrainian military advances. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also pursuing a sputtering mobilization effort. In response to a request for comment, the Russian Defense Ministry did not respond.
An official of the Wagner Group, whose founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, recently acknowledged, dismissed an ongoing effort to recruit former Afghan soldiers as a fanciful idea. An official in the U.S. Defense Department did not respond to a request for comment. But he suggested the recruitment was not unexpected, given Wagner’s attempts to recruit soldiers in several other nations. Many Other Afghan Commandos are Considering Offers
Several Commandos are Considering Russian Offers
One Afghan commando told the AP he is in contact with more than 400 other commandos who are considering offers via a WhatsApp chat. Still, it is unclear how many Afghan special forces members who fled to Iran are being courted by the Russians. It is reported that many individuals in his situation are afraid of deportation and angry at the United States for abandoning them.
A former commando who requested anonymity because he fears for himself and his family said that they never received any attention from them regarding creating special programs for them. He added that they were left in the hands of the Taliban. In addition to himself, the commando offered Russian visas to his wife, children, and extended family in Afghanistan. There have been other extensions of visas offered to Iranians. However, he thinks many will take up the offer as he awaits the decisions of others in the WhatsApp groups.
A dozen US veterans have told the AP that the Taliban have gone from house to house in search of commandos still in the country, tortured or killed them, or tortured or killed family members if the commandos have not been found, according to nearly a dozen cases, none of which have been independently verified. It has been reported that more than 100 former Afghan soldiers, intelligence officers, and police have been killed or forcefully disappeared just three months after the Taliban took over the country despite assurances of amnesty from the government.
In a report released in mid-October, the United Nations reported 160 extrajudicial killings and 178 arrests of former government and military officials. Taliban threats made it difficult to refuse the Russian offer, according to the brother of an Afghan commando in Iran. During the three months after the fall of Kabul, his brother was searched by the Taliban as he moved between relatives’ houses.
Murad, who would only give his first name for fear of the Taliban tracking him down, said his brother had no alternative but to accept the offer. He had a difficult time making this decision. Alizai, the former Afghan army chief, said the Russian military is concentrating most of its recruiting efforts on Tehran and Mashhad, a city near the Afghan border where a large number of Afghans have fled. In an interview with the Associated Press, three generals, including Abdul Jabar Wafa, stated that none of their contacts in Iran were aware of how many took advantage of the offer.
Former Afghan soldiers in Iran sent Arghandiwal a text message stating that they would undergo military training in Russia for two months before going to the front lines. “Several troops have gone but lost contact with their families and friends altogether. Uncertainty exists regarding the exact statistics.” Even though many of the personnel have gone, many of their families and friends are still in contact with them. There is no precise information available regarding these statistics. 20,000 to 30,000 Afghan special forces fought alongside the American military during the withdrawal of the United States military from Afghanistan, and only a few hundred senior officers were evacuated at the end of the conflict.
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