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Elite Afghan troops may be giving US intel, tactics to Iran: Report

An Afghan National Army Commando squad conducts live fire exercises during training at Camp Pamir, Kunduz province, Afghanistan, Feb. 13, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Carnes)
August 16, 2022

Many elite Afghan troops who were specially trained by the U.S. reportedly fled to Iran after the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed. Now those same Afghan commandos could be teaching Iran’s military the secrets of how the U.S. fights, a new congressional report revealed.

More than 3,000 other Afghan security forces likely fled to neighboring Iran after the fall of the Kabul government last year, according to a new report published by the Republican minority on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Among those 3,000 Afghan troops that fled to Iran were several high-ranking officers and U.S.-trained Afghan special operators, Foreign Policy reported.

Four current and former U.S. officials corroborated the details about fleeing Afghan troops in the Republican minority report, Foreign Policy said. They also concurred with the report’s warning that those elite Afghan troops who crossed over to Iran could pass their knowledge of sensitive U.S. special forces tactics and intelligence collection methods to Iran’s government, either voluntarily or under coercion.

“I think most of the Afghans that were in the commandos and other special units were really close to the Americans,” former deputy assistant secretary of defense and CIA paramilitary officer Mick Mulroy said, according to Foreign Policy. “But if you had no option and the only place you could go to escape the Taliban was Iran, and they’re the ones that are going to pay your bills and be able to take care of your family, they’ll be hard pressed not to take that opportunity because they really have no options.”

Afghan National Army (ANA) special forces soldiers received training from U.S. Special Forces Green Berets over the years. According to a 2010 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) report on the first group of Afghan troops to graduate from special forces training, candidates had to complete a 10-week course and then embed with U.S. Green Berets for six months of “on-the-job training” before they could become fully-fledged ANA commandos.

Current and former officials who told Foreign Policy they haven’t tracked a concerted effort by Iran to gain insights on U.S. training and tactics from Afghan special operators. The officials cautioned, however, that it’s hard to know for sure just based on publicly available information.

The decision by ANA troops to flee to a U.S. adversary like Iran highlights the desperation of the U.S.-backed Afghan military before their collapse.

Even before the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed, many Afghans who had worked closely with the U.S. and its allies had begun receiving threats that they would be targeted by the Taliban.

In July of last year, a demoralizing video emerged of Taliban fighters massacring nearly two dozen surrendering Afghan commandos.

Afghan commandos and other ANA troops fled as their hopes of holding back the Taliban eroded.

On July 21, 2021, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff Gen. Mark Milley said “the strategic momentum appears to be with the Taliban” but also said Afghan forces were consolidating and preparing to defend the country’s larger population centers. Milley offered further hopeful signs that a Taliban takeover was “not a foregone conclusion” and I don’t think the endgame is yet written.”

Just over three weeks after Milley’s July 21 remarks, Afghan government forces had virtually collapsed and the Taliban took the capital city of Kabul.

This revelation about elite Afghan troops fleeing to Iran is part of a larger GOP report that alleges the Biden administration had no plan as the U.S. military’s withdrawal was complicated by a collapsing Afghan government and a sudden new mission to oversee a mass civilian evacuation.