Afghan commandos abandoned by the US forced to flee to Iran

Following the collapse of the Afghan government, thousands of Afghan military personnel – including a number of elite US-trained Afghan commandos – were forced to flee to Iran, where they may have leaked closely guarded secrets about US special forces into the hands of a top Iranian rival Middle East.

The plight of commandos being forced to flee to Iran is one of many revelations made in a congressional investigation by a senior Republican lawmaker into the final days of the war in Afghanistan and the chaotic US withdrawal from Kabul as the Taliban took control of the country for almost a year.

The report by Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, portrayed a US State Department ill-prepared for the Afghan government’s rapid collapse in August 2021 and inadequate in handling a massive airlift evacuation to help in the ensuing chaos. “Today, we still reel from the damage done last August, including the encouragement and empowerment of our foreign adversaries,” McCaul said in an interview.

Following the collapse of the Afghan government, thousands of Afghan military personnel – including a number of elite US-trained Afghan commandos – were forced to flee to Iran, where they may have leaked closely guarded secrets about US special forces into the hands of a top Iranian rival Middle East.

The plight of commandos being forced to flee to Iran is one of many revelations made in a congressional investigation by a senior Republican lawmaker into the final days of the war in Afghanistan and the chaotic US withdrawal from Kabul as the Taliban took control of the country for almost a year.

The report by Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, portrayed a US State Department ill-prepared for the Afghan government’s rapid collapse in August 2021 and inadequate in handling a massive airlift evacuation to help in the ensuing chaos. “Today, we still reel from the damage done last August, including the encouragement and empowerment of our foreign adversaries,” McCaul said in an interview.

In the final days of the disengagement, the United States conducted a massive airlift that evacuated nearly 130,000 people – the largest such operation in US history. Still, tens of thousands of Afghans supporting the two-decade American war effort remained in Afghanistan, along with Afghan special forces fighting alongside US forces and a small number of American citizens and permanent residents. The Biden administration insists it is working to get as many people out as possible without the US effort running out. The visa process for Afghans wanting to flee Taliban rule, known as the special immigrant visa (SIV), is riddled with bureaucracy and red tape, although administration officials insist they are working to streamline the process.

An estimated 3,000 Afghan security forces, including a number of senior officers and US-trained Afghan special forces, have been effectively forced to flee to Iran, according to McCaul’s new 120-plus-page report to be released Tuesday. However, the report concluded that in the ongoing US effort to safely evacuate Afghans supporting the US government, “despite security risks highlighted by the Biden administration’s State Department, no former Afghan military personnel have yet received a special mention.” priority status has been granted”.

Four current and former US officials confirmed the details of McCaul’s report on Afghan special forces. They agreed with the conclusions of the report, which warned that Afghan special forces who fled to Iran could share their institutional knowledge of sensitive American military information — including special forces tactics and sensitive intelligence collection — with the Iranian government either voluntarily or by coercion.

“I think most of the Afghans who were in the commandos and other special forces were very close to the Americans,” said Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and CIA paramilitary officer. “But if you didn’t have a choice and the only place you could go to escape the Taliban was Iran and you can pay your bills and take care of your family, you’re going to be under a lot of pressure for not that opportunity.” to use because they really don’t have any options.”

Mir Haider Afzaly, former chairman of the Defense Commission in the Afghan Parliament, said Iran had issued seven-month residency permits to Afghan commandos who fled into the country to prove to Iranian authorities that they had previously served in the Afghan military. Afzaly said he forecast Iran would renew those permits indefinitely.

The current and former officials spoken to foreign policy said they had not followed a concerted effort by Iran to organize or obtain information from former Afghan special operators, but warned that publicly available information made it difficult to know whether Tehran had done so.

When asked about Afghan commandos being forced to flee to Iran and whether plans were afoot in the United States to evacuate Afghan commandos to safety, a State Department spokesman wrote: “Afghan national security forces did not last that long through as anyone expected. This was a painful moment for Afghans and the hundreds of thousands of Americans who served in Afghanistan to support the Afghan people.”

The spokesman added: “A year later, we find ourselves in a stronger strategic position due to the President’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. “For the first time in almost 20 years, our forces in Afghanistan are not at risk, and we are fully focused on the challenges and opportunities that define the 21st century.” The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Taliban have stepped up a campaign of targeted killings of former Afghan military personnel in recent months while fighting pockets of resistance to their rule in parts of the country’s eastern and southern provinces. Former Afghan commandos are particularly vulnerable to the Taliban’s hunting and killing operations, current and former US officials have said, prompting some to flee to Iran.

It seems that many of the former special forces who made it to Iran were used for hard labor or as shopkeepers. In a TikTok video posted in May and circulated among former Afghan officials, a former Afghan commander said he had found a job at a construction site in Iran.

“Iranians are very fortunate because after the fall of the Afghan government, they got a powerful and muscular workforce consisting mainly of former Afghan commandos and soldiers,” the former commando said in the video. “Iranians even make fun of us by saying, ‘I wish the Afghan government collapsed sooner so we would have these hard workers sooner.'”

The CIA independently evacuated thousands of Afghans, including US intelligence-trained counterterrorism agents, from a secure compound called Eagle Base in the final days of the US pullout from the country, but former officials involved with the matter are familiar with said there were a significantly larger number of current and former Afghan military commandos that had to be evacuated.

Iran, which shares a nearly 600-mile border with Afghanistan, has a history of recruiting and using Afghan proxies in combat. Tehran once supported the Northern Alliance against the Taliban during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s. And Iran’s elite Kuds Force trained and recruited the so-called Fatemiyoun Division, an Afghan Shia militia, to fight Sunni groups in Syria from 2013 during the Syrian Civil War. According to researchers, at one point the Fatemiyoun Division had an estimated strength of up to 20,000 fighters.

The congressional inquiry concluded that Afghan forces and commandos who fled to Iran were forced to do so after being effectively abandoned by the United States, and said the Biden administration has yet to do so decide whether to start a new campaign to try and evacuate any Afghan commandos left behind.

“As the TalibanAs the advance on Kabul progressed, there was no organized effort to prioritize the evacuation of critical Afghan military personnel, who had unique knowledge of US military tactics, techniques and procedures and therefore could pose a security risk to America if forced to surrender could pass on their knowledge to a US adversary,” the report says.

According to the report, a senior State Department official said on February 16 that “the issue of evacuating Afghan commandos ‘will be discussed in the agency’ and ‘everything has yet to be discussed and decided.'” But as of July, the White House had not made a decision, the report said.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, continues to insist that US President Joe Biden inherited a fractured Afghanistan policy from former US President Donald Trump, including the 2020 Doha accords with the Taliban that allowed the militant group to gain military strength to win while the United States prepared its withdrawal.

“When we took office, the Taliban were in their strongest military position since 2001 and we had the smallest number of US troops on the ground,” the State Department spokesman said. “Ending the longest war in American history has never been easy. Two previous presidents wanted to end it and couldn’t. But President Biden was determined not to leave his successor in perpetual war.”

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