A displaced and hopeless existence in Iran has prompted thousands of former Afghan troops, many of them elite U.S.-trained special forces personnel, to consider fighting as mercenaries in Ukraine and other battlefields. ing.
Many former Afghan security personnel have accused the United States of abandoning them after the Taliban regained power last year. They also said poverty and security concerns factored into their decision to recruit Russian private mercenary groups into their recruitment offers.
According to WhatsApp messages seen by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, some former Afghan special forces operatives belonged to the Wagner Group, also known as Wagner, a private paramilitary organization that plays a key role in the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine. has already made a move to join the
Hunted by Taliban terrorists, Afghanistan was no longer homeless. “
Thousands of former Afghan soldiers sought refuge after the Taliban occupied their native Afghanistan in August 2021. Others now living in Iran say they live in poverty and are forced to work with manual labor. or even sell garbage to make a living.
This marks a major shift for former members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and its elite special forces, trained by the United States and its Western allies and forming the backbone of the former Afghan government’s efforts to protect the country and combat threats. I’m here. The Taliban and the Islamic State extremist group.
Iranian Afghan soldiers who revealed plans to participate in Wagner’s offer to recruit said they had been betrayed by the US and the US-backed Afghan government against which they fought. Many blame them for their current predicament.
After the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly seized control of the country. Without U.S. support, Afghan forces quickly surrendered, and many Afghan leaders fled the country as Taliban fighters descended on Kabul.
“After the fall of this country’s treasonous presidential regime, [the United States] They sold us out and handed over our country to the terrorists (Taliban),” said the former member of the Afghan Special Forces, who declined to be named, in an audio recording posted on the WhatsApp channel to which the former member of the Afghan army subscribes. Told. .
“We no longer had a place to live in Afghanistan because the Taliban terrorists were after us,” he said in an audio posted on Dec. 3. “
no life on the run
While RFE/RL was unable to independently verify the soldiers’ claims, extrajudicial killings of former Afghan military and government officials are well documented, with more than 100 in the first months of Taliban rule alone. of such killings have been documented.
There is also widespread belief among former Afghan soldiers, translators, and government officials that they were abandoned by U.S. allies and that the former Afghan government botched the war effort and stole funds that had been allocated to the military. , is well documented.
These claims are based on recent Reported by Business Insider It records former Afghan officials smuggling nearly $1 billion in gold and cash out of the country as the government neared collapse.
November, US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Quote Corruption is one of the factors that hastened the collapse of the Afghan government and paved the way for the Taliban to regain control of Afghanistan.
When the U.S. withdraws its last troops on August 30, 2021, it is believed that tens of thousands of Afghan troops who have fought alongside Western coalition forces in Afghanistan for nearly two decades were left behind.
An estimated 80,000 endangered Afghans were airlifted, but since they did not have to fend for themselves, tens of thousands of US-trained troops either fled the country or joined the Taliban. , local enemies.
Many of them went into hiding in Afghanistan or fled the country at the risk of being pursued by the Taliban. on some accountsup to 30,000 former Afghan soldiers headed to Iran.
fight for the dollar
Discussing his situation on WhatsApp, the former soldier said he fled to Iran for his own safety and lived there for several months. He said he signed up after receiving word that the Wagner Group was recruiting Afghans to fight in Ukraine.
“Afghanistan, NATO and the United States brought us in as young men and abandoned us,” he said. That is why many of our fellow soldiers have registered and will soon go to Russia.”
Another ex-soldier said in an audio message posted on the same WhatsApp channel on Dec. 3 that he and a group of colleagues had urged Wagner to fight for Russia in Ukraine after hearing about a mercenary group’s offer to recruit them. said he had recently arrived in Iran with the intention of joining the .
Severe security and economic problems, as well as extreme poverty and desperation forced them to do this for a morsel of bread in order to survive and escape the Taliban’s pursuit and torture. ”
He claimed that Iran was aware of the recruitment efforts and was supporting the process of transferring Afghan soldiers to Russia.
“We were in Afghanistan, and there were a lot of rumors circulating that the ex-military had gone to Russia via Iran,” the soldier said on condition of anonymity. “We registered here in Iran. They We had a few people transferred before us.”
The soldier said former Afghan soldiers were given permanent residency in Russia in exchange for fighting in Ukraine.
The former Special Forces officer said his decision to contract Wagner was due to safety concerns in Afghanistan, where he and his fellow soldiers lived in poverty for 14 months in hiding, and because of his family. said they were influenced by the opportunities for a better life in
“We came alone, but some of the people who were transferred earlier are with their families. [in Russia]”Considering our situation and our children’s situation, we decided to go.
“We were unable to leave our homes. Most of our friends were arrested and killed. Most of them, like me, fled to Iran or Tajikistan,” he said. rice field.
I understand that some Afghans may be vulnerable [Vagner’s] There are financial incentives, but I would warn anyone against taking part in an illegal invasion of Ukraine.”
A former Afghan officer estimated, based on his conversations, that about 2,500 Afghan soldiers had left Afghanistan with the intention of going to Russia, offered $2,500 for six months of training and $3,000 to go and fight in Ukraine. said it was.
These figures are largely in line with other reports and testimonies about Wagner’s conscription campaign, suggesting that Afghan special forces and their families were sent to safe havens and paid 1,500 a month to move to Russia and then fight in Ukraine. He said he had been offered dollars.
General Farid Ahmadi, the exiled former commander of the Special Operations Forces of the Republic of Afghanistan, told Radio Azadi that security and financial concerns have led many former Afghan soldiers to consider fighting Wagner. He said he believed that
“Severe security and economic problems, extreme poverty and desperation forced us to escape Taliban pursuit and torture, survive and do this for a morsel of bread,” Ahmadi said live via Skype this month. said in an interview.
Radio Azadi chronicles the lives of former Afghan soldiers living in Iran.
Saeed Ahmad Nouri, 38, used to be a special forces commander in western Afghanistan but now has to collect garbage in Mashhad to feed his large family.
During his tenure with the ANA, Nouri commanded hundreds of units and laments that “tanks moved under my command and I had full authority.” His family of 12 now live in a one-room apartment and “sleep on top of each other,” he said.
Abdul Ahd Safi, a former high-ranking official who was head of the government department fighting organized crime in Afghanistan’s Herat province, now works in a workshop in Mashhad to feed his family of five.
He told Radio Azadi that he was “barely able to stay alive” because “my income does not cover our expenses”.
Aside from Russia’s war on Ukraine, a small number of former Afghan soldiers have been recruited to fight in other conflicts, including Iran in Yemen, Syria and even Nagorno-Karabakh, Ahmadi said.
There is no evidence that Afghan forces have actually arrived on Ukrainian battlefields, and the country’s security services have not responded to questions sent by RFE/RL about the possibility that Afghans were fighting for Wagner in Ukraine. rice field.
In response to RFE/RL’s questions, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a written comment that the State Department was aware of unconfirmed reports that the Wagner Group was recruiting former Afghan soldiers living outside Afghanistan. .
“I understand that some Afghans may be vulnerable. [Vagner’s] But I would warn anyone to be complicit in an illegal invasion of Ukraine,” the spokesperson said, adding that the Wagner Group was “dangerously and erratically threatened by the Russian government, even as it seeks to maintain its denial.” It is being used to support policy,” he added.
Regarding Afghan soldiers’ claims that they were abandoned by the United States in Afghanistan, a spokesman acknowledged the difficulties Afghans face in leaving the country, but said, “We will continue to monitor the economic situation in Afghanistan and, if possible, will provide support,” he said. We thank the people of Afghanistan for being part of our enduring commitment. “