Vladimir Putin under pressure to 'do something drastic' says expert
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With the Russian military struggling in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has taken drastic measures to bolster his forces. Last month, he announced a partial mobilisation which will see hundreds of thousands of civilians with previous military experience join the war. But Putin isn’t just turning to his own population. It was recently reported that Russia has begun recruiting soldiers who fled Afghanistan last year as the US and UK forces withdrew from the country.
Afghanistan’s elite commandos were trained by the US and UK, but when Western troops left last year, the Afghan soldiers were targeted by the Taliban as the group regained power. This meant many were forced to flee the country with the majority making their way to Iran.
But now, the Russian government is offering these highly trained soldiers cash incentives among other things to lure them into fighting for Moscow’s military in Ukraine. Lynne O’Donnell, a journalist at Foreign Policy, has reported extensively on the story.
Speaking to Monocle 24’s The Globalist podcast, she said: “We are talking about between 20,000 and 30,000 elite, trained, specialist soldiers of the Afghanistan defence forces. They were trained by the US Navy SEALS as well as Britain’s SAS.
“Each soldier cost around $300,000 to train, and they were trained not only in Afghanistan but also in the countries they were working with. They were trained in techniques used by specialist western military units like tactical operations, night raids, navigational skills, covert surveillance and interrogation.
“They are unlike the 300,000-350,000 strong Afghan forces. Their loyalty and ability was never really in question…the Afghan forces were infiltrated by Taliban soldiers who killed their colleagues. That never happened with the commandos.”
Ms O’Donnell has even spoken directly with some of the former elite commandos to gauge some of the techniques Russia is using to persuade the Afghan fighters to join the Russian military. She says many will be too desperate to turn down the offer.
She continued: “It seems that, because Russia is having a little bit of trouble recruiting people to send to Ukraine, the Afghan commandos offer a very attractive alternative for fighting. The fact is they are elite fighting men, and they are telling me that they are receiving messages offering them jobs in the Russian military. They sign up in Iran and then go off the grid.
“Part of the deal is that they get Russian citizenship and their families can be moved out of Afghanistan. If you are struggling to make $3 a day and someone offers you $1500 to join an elite force, that’s pretty attractive.”
The journalist also believes they could make a real impact in the war. Various reports over the last eight months have told of logistical issues within the Russian military.
Poorly equipped, poorly trained soldiers have been left with little direction in the war. At the start of the invasion, some Russian troops even claimed they had no idea they were about to invade a sovereign nation.
But these new Afghan soldiers could make a real difference with their military expertise. Ms O’Donnell explained: “One of the former commando generals told me that this is a potential game-changer [in Ukraine].
“There is the Wagner Group which is a shady mercenary group that works for Putin, going into prisons in Russia and offering to cancel sentences if they sign up to fight in Ukraine. These people are not skilled, they are cannon fodder.
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“A lot of the skills that the Afghans would be able to offer don’t exist in Russia. It could certainly boost the tactical and strategic ability of the Russian army as it struggles in Ukraine.”
However, Ms O’Donnell also said that some of the Afghan elite soldiers are reluctant to help the Russians given the country’s chequered past. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 under the pretext of preserving the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty – signed because Moscow wanted to keep Afghanistan’s unpopular communist rulers in power
When they were eventually overthrown, the Soviets invaded the country. After a 10-year war, the Soviet Union retreated in 1989 having spent millions and lost 15,000 soldiers. Two million Afghans also lost their lives. The war has been described as ‘Russia’s Vietnam’.
It appears Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is headed for a similar conclusion. While there are no universally accepted figures, Putin has lost tens of thousands of soldiers in the fighting in Ukraine.
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