Afghan particular forces troopers who fought alongside American troops after which fled to Iran after the chaotic U.S. withdrawal final yr at the moment are being recruited by the Russian army to struggle in Ukraine, three former Afghan generals advised The Associated Press.
They mentioned the Russians need to entice 1000’s of the previous elite Afghan commandos right into a “international legion” with gives of regular, $1,500-a-month funds and guarantees of protected havens for themselves and their households to allow them to keep away from deportation residence to what many assume could be demise by the hands of the Taliban.
“They do not need to go struggle — however they don’t have any selection,” mentioned one of many generals, Abdul Raof Arghandiwal, including that the dozen or so commandos in Iran with whom he has texted concern deportation most. “They ask me, ‘Give me an answer. What ought to we do? If we return to Afghanistan, the Taliban will kill us.”‘
Arghandiwal mentioned the recruiting is led by the Russian mercenary power Wagner Group. Another basic, Hibatullah Alizai, the final Afghan military chief earlier than the Taliban took over, mentioned the trouble can be being helped by a former Afghan particular forces commander who lived in Russia and speaks the language.
The Russian recruitment follows months of warnings from U.S. troopers who fought with Afghan particular forces that the Taliban was intent on killing them and that they may be a part of with U.S. enemies to remain alive or out of anger with their former ally.
A GOP congressional report in August particularly warned of the hazard that the Afghan commandos — skilled by U.S. Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets — may find yourself giving up details about U.S. ways to the Islamic State group, Iran or Russia — or struggle for them.
“We did not get these people out as we promised, and now it is coming residence to roost,” mentioned Michael Mulroy, a retired CIA officer who served in Afghanistan, including that the Afghan commandos are extremely expert, fierce fighters. “I do not need to see them in any battlefield, frankly, however definitely not preventing the Ukrainians.”
Mulroy was skeptical, nevertheless, that Russians would have the ability to persuade many Afghan commandos to hitch as a result of most he knew have been pushed by the need to make democracy work of their nation quite than being weapons for rent.
AP was investigating the Afghan recruiting when particulars of the trouble have been first reported by Foreign Policy journal final week primarily based on unnamed Afghan army and safety sources. The recruitment comes as Russian forces reel from Ukrainian army advances and Russian President Vladimir Putin pursues a sputtering mobilization effort, which has prompted practically 200,000 Russian males to flee the nation to flee service.
Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t reply to a request for remark. A spokesman for Yevgeny Prigozhin, who just lately acknowledged being the founding father of the Wagner Group, dismissed the concept of an ongoing effort to recruit former Afghan troopers as “insane nonsense.”
The U.S. Defense Department additionally did not reply to a request for remark, however a senior official instructed the recruiting isn’t a surprise on condition that Wagner has been attempting to enroll troopers in a number of different nations.
It’s unclear what number of Afghan particular forces members who fled to Iran have been courted by the Russians, however one advised the AP he’s speaking by the WhatsApp chat service with about 400 different commandos who’re contemplating gives.
He mentioned many like him concern deportation and are offended on the U.S. for abandoning them.
“We thought they may create a particular program for us, however nobody even thought of us,” mentioned the previous commando, who requested anonymity as a result of he fears for himself and his household. “They simply left us all within the arms of the Taliban.”
The commando mentioned his provide included Russian visas for himself in addition to his three youngsters and spouse who’re nonetheless in Afghanistan. Others have been supplied extensions of their visas in Iran. He mentioned he’s ready to see what others within the WhatsApp teams resolve however thinks many will take the deal.
U.S. veterans who fought with Afghan particular forces have described to the AP practically a dozen instances, none confirmed independently, of the Taliban going home to accommodate on the lookout for commandos nonetheless within the nation, torturing or killing them, or doing the identical to members of the family if they’re nowhere to be discovered.
Human Rights Watch has mentioned greater than 100 former Afghan troopers, intelligence officers and police have been killed or forcibly “disappeared” simply three months after the Taliban took over regardless of guarantees of amnesty. The United Nations in a report in mid-October documented 160 extrajudicial killings and 178 arrests of former authorities and army officers.
The brother of an Afghan commando in Iran who has accepted the Russian provide mentioned Taliban threats make it tough to refuse. He mentioned his brother needed to cover for 3 months after the autumn of Kabul, shuttling between kin’ homes whereas the Taliban searched his residence.
“My brother had no different selection aside from accepting the provide,” mentioned the commando’s brother, Murad, who would solely give his first identify due to concern the Taliban would possibly observe him down. “This was not a simple determination for him.”
Former Afghan military chief Alizai mentioned a lot of the Russian recruiting effort is targeted on Tehran and Mashhad, a metropolis close to the Afghan border the place many have fled. None of the generals who spoke to the AP, together with a 3rd, Abdul Jabar Wafa, mentioned their contacts in Iran know what number of have taken up the provide.
“You get army coaching in Russia for 2 months, and then you definitely go to the battle traces,” learn one textual content message a former Afghan soldier in Iran despatched to Arghandiwal. “A variety of personnel have gone, however they’ve misplaced contact with their households and associates altogether. The precise statistics are unclear.”
An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Afghan particular forces fought with the Americans through the two-decade warfare, and only some hundred senior officers have been airlifted out when the U.S. army withdrew from Afghanistan. Since lots of the Afghan commandos didn’t work straight for the U.S. army, they weren’t eligible for particular U.S. visas.
“They have been those who fought to the actually final minute. And they by no means, by no means, by no means talked to the Taliban. They by no means negotiated,” Alizai mentioned. “Leaving them behind is the most important mistake.”
Condon reported from New York. AP writers Rahim Faiez in Islamabad and Tara Copp in Washington contributed to this report.