Afghan commandos who had been trained by Allied forces to fight the Taliban are now being recruited by Russia to fight in Ukraine.
Up to 30,000 members of the elite National Army Commando Corps were abandoned by the West when the country fell to the hardline Islamist group last year.
Now, the US-trained light infantry force that fought side by side with allied troops for nearly 20 years could be joining Vladimir Putin’s savage war effort.
It is believed the shadowy Wagner Group is behind the recruitment drive, exploiting the jobless commandos.
An ex-official told Foreign Policy: ‘I am telling you [the recruiters] are Wagner Group. They are gathering people from all over.
Afghan special forces attend a graduation ceremony at the Kabul Military Training Centre in July last year
A view shows a gas station destroyed by yesterday’s Russian military strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues in Dnipro
‘[The Afghan commandos] would be better used by Western allies to fight alongside Ukrainians. They don’t want to fight for the Russians; the Russians are the enemy. But what else are they going to do?’
Many say they have been contacted via WhatsApp and Signal with offers to join the Russian ‘foreign legion’ in Ukraine.
Senior military and security officials in Afghanistan fear as many as 10,000 soldiers could be tempted to join, because they have ‘nothing to lose’.
Only a few hundred senior officers were evacuated by the US in the dramatic withdrawal from Kabul in August 2021.
Many Afghan soldiers fled to neighbouring countries and others went into hiding fearing reprisals from the Taliban for their loyalty to the collapsed government and the West.
A member of the Ukrainian National Guard fires a mortar launcher at a position along the front line in Kharkiv region
Up to 30,000 members of the elite National Army Commando Corps were abandoned by the West
The US-trained light infantry force that fought side by side with allied troops for nearly 20 years could be joining Vladimir Putin’s savage war effort
The commandos were honed by US Navy Seals and the British SAS, with a staggering £80billion spent on their training by the US.
An ex-security official said their call-up to Ukraine would be a ‘game-changer’ in Putin’s faltering war.
Last year, Rep. Michael McCaul warned abandoning the commandos could prove to be a costly mistake by the US as they could be recruited for adversary armies.
One Afghan ex-commando captain who is now in hiding said he helped his comrades connect with recruiters in Iran.
They were flown to Tehran and then on to Russia where their phones are switched off and they carry out their mission ‘secretly’, he said.
The 35-year-old said: ‘We are very disappointed. For 18 years, shoulder to shoulder, we performed dangerous tasks with American, British, and Norwegian consultants. Now, I am in hiding. I am suffering every second.’
Despite the appealing offer, many are reluctant to fight for a country which under the guise of the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and recently supported the Taliban.
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers march during a ceremony at a military base in the Guzara district of Herat province in 2020
It is not the first time Russia has tapped up foreign powers to assist in its brutal campaign in Ukraine.
Syrian mercenaries with years of experience fighting in their country’s civil war were offered $1,000 a month for joining the war.
The first group of at least 300 of Syrian fighters arrived in Russia in March to begin military training – and to return the favour to Moscow for helping Al-Assad in the civil war, the New York Times reported.
Iranian troops have also been secretly sent to the frontline to help train Moscow’s forces in how to operate kamikaze drones.
Up to 50 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) specialists have been sent to the southern and eastern front with hundreds of Shahed-136 drones.
Iran has denied shipping drones or troops to be used against Ukraine
But Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said: ‘It’s just indicative of the kinds of rhetoric that you hear coming from Iran and from Russia, trying to say that these are not Iranian drones when they clearly are.
‘In many ways, these drones are used to, as psychological weapons used to create fear.
‘But from an operational, from a strategic standpoint, it still doesn’t change the fact that Russian forces on the ground continue to lose territory or at best hold ground.’
But the recruitment of Afghan troops will serve as a major embarrassment to the US, after years and billions of dollars spent on their training.
The Wagner Group, led by billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been linked to a string of killings, rapes and war crimes is known as Putin’s private army which carries out his dirty work at an arm’s length from the state.
The Wagner Group is operating in Ukraine and has been linked to a string of horrific killings
The army-for-hire, allegedly run by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin – a close ally of the Russian president who is often dubbed ‘Putin’s chef’ – was flown into Ukraine at the start of the war.
It has previously been deployed to Africa, where it has carried out black ops operations that the Kremlin wants done while avoiding direct responsibility.
They are currently engaged in a bloody battle with Ukraine in the eastern town of Bakhmut.
Russia has officially denied the group’s existence and its origins are murky, though it first appeared in 2014 in the Donbas.
Initially, it was made up of only a few hundred Russian army veterans. They were ordered to assassinate Donbas leaders who were broadly supportive of Russia, but refused to follow instructions from the Kremlin.
These assassinations were then blamed on Ukrainian forces, according to security experts.
Wagner’s founder is Dmitry Utkin, a shaven-headed former lieutenant colonel in Spetsnaz – Russia’s special forces. He named it after his Spetsnaz code name.
Utkin is seen as a neo-Nazi and was described by one Russian newspaper as having ‘an appreciation of the aesthetic of the Third Reich’, complete with tattoos of the Waffen-SS on his shoulder and an eagle on his chest.
Mercenaries are illegal in Russia but Putin used Wagner to crush Syrian rebels and even awarded Utkin a medal.
Eventually, however, the Wagner Group became so dangerous that even the Russian government refused to pay them.
This led to Putin appointing oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin to control the group.
The global crimes of the notorious Wagner Group used by Putin for ‘dirty’ missions
The notorious Wagner Group, a private military company, has committed war crimes across the globe. They have now been tasked with assassinating Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian politicians.
In December, the EU accused Wagner of ‘serious human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique’.
So what are some of the crimes the group has committed?
Donbas, Ukraine: The Wagner group first appeared in 2014, to help Russia destabilise the Donbas region.
Hundreds of members assassinated Donbas separist leaders who were not following Kremlin orders, with the killings blamed on Ukraine.
Syria: Wagner was operating in Syria in 2015, where the Russians wanted to bolster the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
In 2017, Wagner employees tortured a deserter from the Syrian army.
Sickening footage showed how they broke his legs with a sledgehammer and then crushed his chest, before cutting off his hands, his head and finally setting his corpse alight.
The conduct of Wagner in Syria eventually became so bad that the Russian government refused to pay them, viewing them as dangerous cowboys.
Wagner’s founder and leader is Dmitry Utkin, a shaven-headed former lieutenant colonel in Spetsnaz – Russia’s special forces.
He is described as a neo-Nazi with ‘an appreciation of the aesthetic of the Third Reich’. Utkin was sanctioned by the EU for ordering Bouta’s killing.
Central African Republic: Wagner mercenaries arrived in CAR to support President Faustin-Archange Touadéra against rebels in 2017.
Wagner employees were accused by the UN and France of carrying out human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings of suspected rebels.
There were also accusations of rape, robbery and torture against unarmed civilians.
The United Nations is probing an alleged massacre during a joint operation by government forces and Wagner fighters.
One military source told AFP that more than 50 people died, some in ‘summary executions’
In 2018, three Russian journalists reporting on Wagner’s activities in CAR were ambushed and shot dead. Another Russian journalist investigating the group ‘fell’ to his death from his fifth floor flat.
Sudan: Wagner mercenaries are believed to have trained government forces.
The group also ‘spreads disinformation on social media and engages in illicit activities connected to gold mining’.
Mozambique: Wagner has supported the army in its fight against the Islamist militant insurgency in the north.
They have been accused of burning down villages, terrorising civilians and killing women and children.
However, the group retreated in the face of jihadists after around a dozen men were killed in gruesome attacks by ISIS terrorists.
They were believed to have been killed in ambushes and botched operations.
Mali: The Mali government employed 1,000 Wagner operatives in December.
Russian operatives are believed to have helped train coup plotters who took over last year.