Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started, reports emerged of Afghan special forces – who were fleeing the Taliban – fighting as guns for hire on the Ukrainian side in the battle for Mariupol. But now it has emerged that the same special force commandos are fighting on the Russian side, drafted in for a key battle in the war, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pushes to take the strategically important city of Bakhmut.
During the Afghan War, American and British forces put a lot of resources into training Afghan special force platoons. Having a competent army to protect the US-installed Afghan government was a key part of the NATO armies’ strategy for exiting Afghanistan and keeping the Taliban at bay. The US trained them much better than soldiers in the regular Afghan army, but some of the CIA-trained units had a reputation for carrying out extrajudicial killings and settling personal disputes with impunity.
When the US left Afghanistan in 2021, some 20,000-30,000 commandos were out of work
and being hunted by the Taliban. According to several reports, these Afghan commandos fled to Iran, where they were recruited by a Russian mercenary outfit called the Wagner Group, who promised them good salaries and help to relocate their families. Early on in the Ukraine War Wagner Group-affiliated Telegram channels posted videos of US-bought Afghan Army helicopters now being used by the Ukrainian army.
But as fighting intensifies in Bakhmut, which has become the frontline in Russia’s advance, it is the Wagner Group that is drafting in Afghan commandos and putting out recruitment adverts on Telegram.
The US military spent hundreds of billions of dollars training the Afghan special forces. They also spent hundreds of billions of dollars training Ukrainian soldiers since 2014 and pouring money into the conflict. And now, just like when US-backed Mujahideen fighters from the Soviet’s Afghan invasion used the US’ own training and weapons to fight against them during the US-Afghan war, it seems like US chickens are coming home to roost once again in Ukraine.
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