“Iran took advantage of the Afghan soldiers that fled and recruited some of these military forces and sent them to Russia to fight for a salary of a few thousand dollars.”
In the summer of 2022, Hamid, a security chief from Northern Afghanistan, was at Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia. Hamid was in Russia on a business visa. But he never stepped foot outside of the airport.
Men in military uniform stopped Hamid, saying that he needed to go to Ukraine to fight in the war. He refused and was taken into custody. He spent two days at the airport before he was deported back to Afghanistan.
Hamid told Strike Source “They offered my family a good salary and residency in Moscow. They said if I don’t go fight, that they would send me back to my country.”
Hamid provided a photo of his business visa, which is heavily redacted. The stamp on the document shows the Russians revoked his visa.
This was the second time Hamid had been deported in a matter of months. The first time was in Iran.
Like some Afghans, Hamid sought refuge in Iran after the Taliban seized control of the country. His reason: he worked with Coalition Forces against the Taliban and other extremist elements in Afghanistan. While in Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) told him to go to the “Ukraine War.” He declined and was sent back to Afghanistan.
It was back in Afghanistan that Hamid received his business visa to go to Russia.
Strike Source spoke to a former high-ranking Afghan intelligence official about Hamid’s experience with Iran and Russia. He told us that Afghans holding Russian visas have been denied entry into Russia and repatriated to Afghanistan for refusing to fight for Russia in Ukraine.
He also shed light on how Iran is helping recruit by proxy. “Iran took advantage of the Afghan soldiers that fled and recruited some of these military forces and sent them to Russia to fight for a salary of a few thousand dollars.”
“It was a few hundred people. The Iranians run things through the embassy in Afghanistan and recruit primarily from the northern provinces.”
After telling Strike Source that Russia is still trying to recruit Afghans to fight in Ukraine, he said it was his understanding PMC Wagner is the company Afghans would work for. Wagner was recently designated a transnational criminal organization. However, we could not independently corroborate the claims that they are behind Afghan recruitment efforts.
Additionally, a second former Afghan intelligence official confirmed the information about Russia recruiting Afghans. “Afghan soldiers have gone to Iran, Pakistan, and Russia.”
With the lack of economic opportunity in Afghanistan, the Russians will continue to recruit Afghans with military backgrounds to fight in Ukraine. According to RFERL and anonymous sources who spoke to Strike Source, up to as many as 30,000 Afghan soldiers made their way across the Iranian border. Housed within these ranks are elite Afghan special forces operators. It is from this pool of meaningful combat talent that Wagner and other Russian PMCs have identified opportunities to recruit such individuals, adding insult to an already deep moral injury for both Afghans and their allies.
Russia sees the Afghans trained by Coalition Forces as a potential asset not only on the battlefield, but also as a significant propaganda win against the United States and the West. However, the fact that Russians are deporting Afghans that refuse to fight in Ukraine could prevent some Afghans from accepting offers from Russia and make it more difficult in the future for their recruitment efforts.
Editors note: To protect Hamid’s safety, we did not include the full company name on his Russian visa in this report. However, using open-source intelligence techniques and methods, we identified multiple indicators that suggest the business is likely a shell company. In addition, Hamid is a pseudonym, which was used in this report to protect his identity.