Russia: Wagner Army growing ‘dissatisfied’ says former mercenary
The Wagner Group is Vladimir Putin’s notorious private army of ruthless mercenaries. Afghan soldiers who previously fought alongside American troops are now being recruited by Russia to fight in Ukraine, insiders have revealed.
In a cruel twist of fate, thousands of former commandos who fled to Iran following the chaotic US withdrawal last year are being tempted into a “foreign legion” of overseas fighters, three former Afghan generals said.
Now they are being lured with offers of steady, £1,300-a-month payments and promises of safe havens for themselves and their families so they can avoid deportation home to what many assume would be death at the hands of the Taliban.
Abdul Raof Arghandiwal explained: “They don’t want to go fight – but they have no choice.”
Vladimir Putin’s Wagner Group is trying to recruit Afghan special forces soldiers
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Putin ally believed to be bankrolling the Wagner Group
The dozen or so commandos in Iran with whom he has texted feared deportation most, he explained.
Mr Arghandiwal added: “They ask me, ‘Give me a solution.
“What should we do? If we go back to Afghanistan, the Taliban will kill us.’”
The recruiting is led by the infamous Russian mercenary force Wagner Group, he claimed.
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Joe Biden ordered his withdrawal from Afghanistan last year
Another general, Hibatullah Alizai, the last Afghan army chief before the Taliban took over, said the effort was also being helped by a former Afghan special forces commander who lived in Russia and speaks the language.
The Russian recruitment follows months of warnings from US soldiers who fought with Afghan special forces that the Taliban was intent on killing them and that they might join with US enemies to stay alive or out of anger with their former ally.
A Republican Party congressional report in August specifically warned of the danger that the Afghan commandos – trained by US Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets – could end up giving up information about US tactics to the Islamic State group, Iran or Russia – or fight for them.
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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Febuary 24
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky
Michael Mulroy, a retired CIA officer who served in Afghanistan, said: “We didn’t get these individuals out as we promised, and now it’s coming home to roost.”
Stressing that the Afghan commandos were highly skilled, fierce fighters, he said: “I don’t want to see them in any battlefield, frankly, but certainly not fighting the Ukrainians.”
Nevertheless, Mr Mulroy was sceptical that Russia would be able to persuade many Afghan commandos to join because most he knew were driven by the desire to make democracy work in their country as opposed to being guns for hire.
The recruitment comes as Russian forces reel from Ukrainian military advances and Russian President Vladimir Putin pursues a sputtering mobilisation effort, which has prompted nearly 200,000 Russian men to flee the country to escape service.
Afghanistant conflict timeline
Russia’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Yevgeny Prigozhin, who recently acknowledged being the founder of the Wagner Group, dismissed the idea of an ongoing effort to recruit former Afghan soldiers as “crazy nonsense”.
The US Defense Department also did not reply to a request for comment, but a senior official suggested the recruiting is not surprising given that Wagner has been trying to sign up soldiers in several other countries.
It’s unclear how many Afghan special forces members who fled to Iran have been approached by Russia, but one said he was communicating via WhatsApp with roughly 400 other commandos who were weighing up offers.
Afghan Taliban members celebrate the first anniversary of the US withdrawal on August 31
Many like him feared deportation and were angry at the US for, as they saw it, abandoning them.
One former commando said: “We thought they might create a special program for us, but no one even thought about us. They just left us all in the hands of the Taliban.”
The commando said his offer included Russian visas for himself as well as his three children and wife who were still in Afghanistan. Others have been offered extensions of their visas in Iran. He said he is waiting to see what others in the WhatsApp groups decided but thinks many will take the deal.
Between 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 out when the US military withdrew from Afghanistan.
Since many of the Afghan commandos did not work directly for the US military, they were not eligible for special US visas.