U.S.-Trained Afghan Commandos Fled to Iran With Weapons, Report Finds

Elite Afghan forces bring U.S. training to Tehran, according to whistleblower interviews

FILE PHOTO: U.S. service members assist with security at an Evacuation Control Check Point (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 26, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/Handout via REUTERS.
August 15, 2022

Elite Afghan soldiers trained by the United States fled to Iran with weapons and specialized combat training following the Biden administration’s bungled withdrawal from the country that let the Taliban regain power, according to a report by Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee based on interviews with whistleblowers and internal State Department documents.

"A ‘significant’ number of Afghan special forces and about 3,000 Afghan security forces, including high ranking officers, crossed the border into Iran," according to the report, which was released on Monday to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the deadly U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. "Some brought military equipment and vehicles with them. We believe this happened because they were not evacuated by the U.S. or our allies, and therefore had no other option."

These forces were trained in combat by U.S. special operators, in some cases within the United States, and "could be a serious national security threat to the United States if they are captured or turn," according to the report. They "know not only our tactics but who these elite [U.S.] military officials are."

The findings detail months of chaos following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and indicate that the tumult in the country has provided an opportunity for regional enemies like Iran to regain a foothold in the war-torn country. Details of Iran’s ties to these U.S. trained fighters comes as new threats from Iran are making headlines across America, with the arrest of an Iranian national who'd put a bounty on former White House national security adviser John Bolton's head, as well as the attempted murder last week of the novelist Salman Rushdie, who has long faced threats from Iran’s clerical regime.

"The recruitment of former Afghan military and intelligence personnel poses a major national security risk due to the fact these Afghan personnel know the U.S. military and intelligence community’s tactics, techniques, and procedures," the report concludes.

In addition to the weapons and military equipment these special forces brought with them to Iran, they have an intimate knowledge of the U.S. military and its tactics in the region, know-how that is highly sought after by Iran’s terrorist proxy groups and other jihadi militants.

"These commandos are trained, highly trained, on how we do signals intelligence, how we do human intelligence, how we operate," Rep. Michael Waltz (R., Fla.), a combat veteran, said in the report. "We know that the Taliban are hunting them down. They are seeking to force them through coercion to hand over that information so that they can use it and they can understand how we operate."

Beyond Iran, Russia and China are also looking to recruit these forces for their inside knowledge about American military tactics.

"It is possible these former Afghan military and other intelligence personnel could be recruited or coerced into working for one of America’s adversaries that maintains a presence in Afghanistan, including Russia, [and] China," in addition to Iran, according to the report.

The State Department said in October 2021 that it is aware of the threat posed by Afghan soldiers trained by the United States, though it has done little since then to find them and get them to safety.

"Afghans who possess the knowledge specific to security operations, intelligence collection, other aspects of security and defense forces that if it were to fall into terrorists’ hands would pose a national security risk to the United States, those people will have a special category, I think there is just no way around it," a senior State Department official quoted in the report told Congress.

The Pentagon was to create a list detailing "critical Afghan personnel that would warrant prioritization in being evacuated." But, as of February 2022, "the Pentagon list had still not been shared with the State Department Task Force, meaning several months of inactivity with regards to evacuation," the report disclosed.

Afghan military personnel also do not qualify for the U.S. Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program that has brought in scores of vulnerable Afghans, the report says. The administration is still only evacuating remaining Americans, green card holders, and pre-approved SIV applicants.

It also has not been made clear if Afghan military members would qualify for refugee status, and, if they did, they would be responsible for getting themselves out of the country without American assistance, according to the report.

The number of Americans stranded in Afghanistan after the evacuation also is far higher than the Biden administration admits. While U.S. officials repeatedly said "about 100" Americans were left in the country after the military left, the State Department is known to have evacuated more than 800 American citizens since Aug. 31, 2021—a number that does not include the scores of Americans evacuated by outside groups.