According to sources within the Afghan military, Russia has begun recruiting Afghan soliders, previously trained by U.S. soldiers, to serve in the Ukraine conflict. The move will see Afghan soldiers who previously sided with the United States against the Taliban serving with a military at odds with the United States and much of the western world.
Sources suggest that the National Army Commando Corps, which fought alongside U.S. soldiers for 20 years, has begun sending soldiers to Ukraine. The news was confirmed by a Department of Defense spokesperson who said that the Pentagon has “seen the reports” and will continue to “monitor” the situation.
According to a report by Foreign Policy, which cited Afghan security sources, there are tens of thousands of Afghan soliders still waiting to be resettled in the United States or the United Kingdom after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, making them “easy pickings” for Russian recruiters.
The move is significant, according to Foreign Policy sources who claimed that the Afghan soldiers assisting the Russian military would be a “game changer” on the battlefield, especially considering that many of Russia’s newest recruits have not undergone extensive training.
According to one former official, who also served as an Afghan commando officer, Wagner may be behind the recruitment in Afghanistan.
The Wagner Group is a private paramilitary organization from Russia that provides mercenaries to support Russian military efforts overseas. The organization has relied heavily on the recruitment of prisoners in recent weeks and months, with many of those largely untrained soldiers reportedly used as “cannon fodder” on the battlefield.
Trained soldiers from Afghanistan, therefore, provide a solution to Wagner’s problem; a large supply of well-trained soldiers living under the threat of imprisonment or death in Afghanistan.
“I am telling you [the recruiters] are Wagner Group. They are gathering people from all over. The only entity that recruits foreign troops [for Russia] are Wagner Group, not their army. It’s not an assumption; it’s a known fact,” an unnamed source told Foreign Policy.
The same source said that the soldiers would rather fight for Ukraine, but have not been presented with an opportunity to do so.
“They’d 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?” the source also said.
Is Russia Wooing Afghanistan?
Following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban has sought legitimacy and recognition from world leaders. Russia is among a handful of powerful states that have embraced Taliban rule, and the news that Afghan soldiers could soon be fighting on behalf of Russia could be the result of an effort by Russia to “normalize” the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Samuel Ramani, an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, noted on Twitter that a key ally of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, visited Kabul after the Taliban takeover. Maxim Shugaley appeared in a photograph with Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid and is believed to be working to improve ties between the two countries.
“It was widely believed that Shugaley was trying to create a normalized image of the Taliban inside Russia, as the Taliban is deemed a terrorist organization,” Ramani said.
Curiously, though, Ramani revealed how Shugaley appears to be benefitting from Taliban persecution of Afghan civilians and military personnel accused of being “collaborators.”
“The Afghan commandos, estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 in number, have been persecuted by the Taliban as collaborators and are in hiding So it appears as if Prigozhin has been playing a double game courting the Taliban and those vulnerable to its repression at the same time,” Ramani added.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.