Afghan special forces soldiers who fought alongside US troops and then fled to Iran after the chaotic US withdrawal last year are now conscripted into the Russian army to fight in Ukraine, three former Afghan generals said The Associated Press.
They said the Russians wanted to lure thousands of elite former Afghan commandos into the “foreign Legion” with offers of a steady payment of $1,500 a month and promises of safe havens for them and their families so they could avoid deportation home that many assumed would be death at the hands of the Taliban.
“They don’t want to go fight, but they have no choice,” said one of the generals, Abdul Raof Arghandiwal, adding that the dozen or so commandos in Iran to whom he sent messages were most afraid of deportation. “They ask me: ‘Give me a solution. What do we do? If we go back to Afghanistan, the Taliban will kill us‘”.
Arghandiwal said the recruitment is being conducted by the Wagner group’s Russian mercenary forces. Another general, Hibatullah Alizai, the last Afghan army commander before the Taliban took over, said a former Afghan special forces commander who lived in Russia and spoke the language was helping the effort.
The Russian draft followed months of warnings from US soldiers who fought with Afghan special forces that the Taliban intended to kill them and that they might join US enemies to stay alive or out of anger at their former ally.
A congressional Republican report in August specifically warned of the danger that Afghan commandos, trained by US Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, could pass on information about US tactics to, or fight for, the Islamic State group, Iran or Russia.
“We didn’t get these guys out like we promised, and now they’re coming home,” said Michael Mulroy, a retired CIA officer who served in Afghanistan, adding that Afghan commandos are fierce and highly skilled fighters. “To be honest, I don’t want to see them on any battlefield, but by all means not fighting the Ukrainians.”
However, Mulroy was skeptical that the Russians could convince many Afghan commandos to join them because most of those he knew were motivated by a desire to make democracy work in their country, not to be mercenaries.
The AP was investigating the Afghan recruitment when details of the effort were first reported by Foreign Policy magazine last week based on unnamed Afghan military and security sources.
The recruitment comes as Russian forces are reeling from Ukrainian military gains and Russian President Vladimir Putin is launching a mobilization effort that has led to nearly 200 thousand Russian men flee country to escape from service.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Yevgeny Prigozhin, who recently admitted to being the founder of the Wagner Group, dismissed the idea of ongoing efforts to recruit ex-Afghan soldiers as “senseless madness”.
The US Department of Defense also did not respond to a request for comment, but a senior official suggested the recruitment was not surprising given that Wagner had tried to recruit soldiers in several other countries.
It is not clear how many members of the Afghan special forces who fled to Iran courted the Russians, but one told the AP that he communicates with others through the WhatsApp chat service. 400 commands are considering offers.
He said many like him fear deportation and are angry at the United States for abandoning them.
“We thought they could make a special program for us, but no one remembered us,” said the former commando, who wished to remain anonymous because he fears for himself and his family. “They just left us all in the hands of the Taliban.”
The command said his offer was included all russian for him, as well as for his three children and wife who are still in Afghanistan. Others were offered visa extensions in Iran. He said he was waiting to see what others in the WhatsApp groups decided, but thought many would accept the deal.
American veterans who fought with Afghan special forces described to the AP nearly a dozen cases, none independently confirmed, of the Taliban going door-to-door looking for commandos still in the country, by torturing or killing them, or they do the same with their relatives if they are nowhere to be found.
Human Rights Watch said that more than 100 former Afghan soldierss, intelligence officers and police officers were violently killed or “disappeared” just three months after the Taliban took power despite promises of amnesty. A United Nations report in mid-October documented 160 extrajudicial executions and 178 arrests of former government and military officials.