Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor delivers a budget reply address to the National Press Club
Afghan special forces soldiers who fought alongside American troops and then fled to Iran after the chaotic US withdrawal last year are now being recruited by the Russian military to fight in Ukraine, three former Afghan generals have told the Associated Press.
They said the Russians wanted to attract thousands of the former elite Afghan commandos to a "foreign legion" using offers of steady $1,500-a-month payments and promises of safe havens for them and their families so they could avoid deportation home to what many assume would be death at the hands of the Taliban.
"They don't want to go fight — but they have no choice," one of the generals, Abdul Raof Arghandiwal, said, adding that the dozen or so commandos in Iran with whom he had texted feared deportation most.
"They ask me, 'Give me a solution. What should we do? If we go back to Afghanistan, the Taliban will kill us.'"
General Arghandiwal said the recruiting was led by the Russian mercenary force Wagner Group.
Another general, Hibatullah Alizai, the last Afghan army chief before the Taliban took over, said the effort was also being helped by a former Afghan special forces commander who lived in Russia and spoke the language.
An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Afghan special forces members fought with the Americans during the two-decade war, and only a few hundred senior officers were airlifted out when the US military withdrew from Afghanistan.
Afghans who worked for the ADF are calling on the federal government to urgently help them come to Australia as the Taliban continues to target them and their families.
Thousands of Afghans also worked with Australian troops and diplomats. Many remain in Afghanistan in fear for their lives.
More than 200,000 Afghans have sought humanitarian protection in Australia since August last year, with almost half of those still waiting for their applications to be considered.
The Russian recruitment follows months of warnings from US soldiers who fought with Afghan special forces that the Taliban was intent on killing them and that they might join with US enemies to stay alive or out of anger at their former ally.
A GOP congressional report in August specifically warned of the danger the Afghan commandos — trained by US Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets — could end up giving up information about US tactics to the Islamic State group, Iran or Russia, or fight for them.
"We didn't get these individuals out as we promised and now it's coming home to roost," Michael Mulroy, a retired CIA officer who served in Afghanistan said, adding that the Afghan commandos were highly skilled, fierce fighters.
"I don't want to see them in any battlefield, frankly, but certainly not fighting the Ukrainians."
Mr Mulroy was sceptical, however, that Russians would be able to persuade many Afghan commandos to join because most he knew were driven by the desire to make democracy work in their country rather than being guns for hire.
AP was investigating the Afghan recruiting when details of the effort were first reported by Foreign Policy magazine last week based on unnamed Afghan military and security sources.
In deploying one of his most brutal generals, who unleashed terror in Syria, Vladimir Putin is signalling a shift in strategy for his war in Ukraine.
The recruitment comes as Russian forces reel from Ukrainian military advances and Russian President Vladimir Putin pursues a sputtering mobilisation effort which has prompted nearly 200,000 Russian men to flee the country to escape service.
Russia's defence ministry did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Yevgeny Prigozhin, who recently acknowledged being the founder of the Wagner Group, dismissed the idea of an ongoing effort to recruit former Afghan soldiers as "crazy nonsense".
The US Department of Defense also did not reply to a request for comment, but a senior official suggested the recruitment was not surprising given that Wagner had been trying to sign up soldiers in several other countries.
It is unclear how many Afghan special forces members who fled to Iran have been courted by the Russians. However, one said he was communicating through the WhatsApp chat service with about 400 other commandos who were considering offers.
He said many like him feared deportation and were angry at the US for abandoning them.
"We thought they might create a special program for us, but no-one even thought about us," said the former commando, who requested anonymity because of fears for him and his family.
"They just left us all in the hands of the Taliban."
The commando said his offer included Russian visas for him, as well as his three children and wife who were still in Afghanistan.
Others have been offered extensions of their visas in Iran. He said he was waiting to see what others in the WhatsApp groups decided but thought many would take the deal.
US veterans who fought with Afghan special forces have described to the AP nearly a dozen cases, none confirmed independently, of the Taliban going house to house looking for commandos still in the country, torturing or killing them, or doing the same to family members if they are nowhere to be found.
Human Rights Watch has said more than 100 former Afghan soldiers, intelligence officers and police were killed or forcibly "disappeared" just three months after the Taliban took over despite promises of amnesty.
The United Nations in a report in mid-October documented 160 extrajudicial killings and 178 arrests of former government and military officials.
The brother of an Afghan commando in Iran who has accepted the Russian offer said Taliban threats had made it difficult to refuse.
He said his brother had to hide for three months after the fall of Kabul, shuttling between relatives' houses while the Taliban searched his home.
"My brother had no other choice other than accepting the offer," said the commando's brother, Murad, who would only give his first name because of fear the Taliban might track him down.
"This was not an easy decision for him."
Afghan refugees and migrants living in limbo at a United Arab Emirates (UAE) facility for nearly a year since being evacuated from Afghanistan hold fresh protests over what they say is a slow and opaque resettlement process.
Former Afghan army chief, General Alizai, said much of the Russian recruiting effort was focused on Tehran and Mashhad, a city near the Afghan border where many had fled.
None of the generals who spoke to the AP, including a third, Abdul Jabar Wafa, said their contacts in Iran knew how many had taken up the offer.
"You get military training in Russia for two months, and then you go to the battlelines," read one text message a former Afghan soldier in Iran sent to General Arghandiwal.
"A number of personnel have gone, but they have lost contact with their families and friends altogether. The exact statistics are unclear."
Since many of the Afghan commandos did not work directly for the US military, they were not eligible for special US visas.
"They were the ones who fought to the really last minute. And they never, never, never talked to the Taliban. They never negotiated," General Alizai said.
"Leaving them behind is the biggest mistake."
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.
AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
Surviving The 2nd Wave of Corona
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort