This fall, rumors began circulating that Afghan commandos in Iran were being recruited to fight alongside the Russian military in Ukraine. Media reports citing former Afghan officers suggested that the Wagner Group, a private military contractor with close ties to the Kremlin, was behind the recruitment campaign.
Former Afghan commandos in Iran that I spoke to largely confirm the rumors, though I found less evidence to support the claim of Wagner’s role. Many of the commandos confirmed having been contacted via WhatsApp or Signal and offered the opportunity to volunteer to fight in the war. The messages were brief and direct, offering a monthly salary of $1,500, a Russian residence permit for the soldiers’ families and even passports. Senior officers were promised salaries of $2,500.
While there is no reliable information on how many of those contacted actually accepted these offers, the reports raise the question of what happened to the roughly 22,000 U.S.-trained Afghan special operations forces that made up the core of the much larger Afghan army. These commandos formed the tip of the army’s spear in the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents in the final years of the U.S. military’s involvement in Afghanistan, a role that only expanded as U.S. troops began withdrawing in 2021.