We’re all familiar with the many bad things that happened in Afghanistan after our disastrous withdrawal from that country. Sadly, many of those disasters continue to unfold to this day, particularly when it comes to those who were left behind. A new wrinkle in that story popped up yesterday in an op-ed in the New York Times written by Thomas Kasza. He’s an American Special Forces soldier (retired) who trained and fought alongside the troops of the Afghan National Army for fourteen years. He witnessed America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and has since worked tirelessly to help bring home those who were left behind. But he has also been made aware that many of those battle-hardened Afghan troops that he trained have been in trouble since the Taliban took over. And now, lacking other opportunities, some of them have signed on as foreign legion troops fighting in Ukraine on behalf of Moscow.
Since the precipitous departure from Afghanistan, and in the absence of meaningful government support to the nonprofit organizations who have worked to aid our former allies, many of those highly trained commandos have accepted recruitment offers to fight with the Russian Army in Ukraine. For the 20,000 to 30,000 men that we trained, a steady salary and the promise of shelter from the Taliban is often too good of a deal to pass up — even if the cost is returning to combat.
As the next Congress prepares to investigate the withdrawal and how it went so disastrously wrong, they should examine not only the lead-up to those dramatic days in August 2021 when the Taliban swept into Kabul, but also what happened — and is currently happening — in the wake of their victory. How those who safeguarded American troops are actively hunted. How they’ve suffered under the Taliban. How our government turned a blind eye. How Afghans were forced to pay nearly $600 per person to apply for humanitarian parole, while Ukrainians had the fee waived.
I feel grateful to have been able to read Kasza’s opinion piece. It really changed my perspective on this situation and I highly recommend that you give it a look also. I’ll confess that when I first saw a headline suggesting Afghan fighters were fighting for Russia, it evoked an immediate negative feeling in me. During the war, we saw too many stories of Afghan troops who turned out to be Taliban plants conducting terror attacks against our forces, including suicide bombings.
But Tom Kasza reminds us that they were the exceptions to the rule, and most of the Afghan National Army fought and bled for our cause for two long decades. But nearly all of them were left behind, along with our translators and other helpers who assisted the allies over the course of America’s longest war. Because they are known to have helped the Americans, they face persecution and even death at the hands of the Taliban. Many are starving, along with the rest of the country, and they have few opportunities to make a living.
With that in mind, I agree with Kasza that we can’t really blame them for signing up to fight for Russia. Putin is offering cash bonuses and regular pay to employ the battlefield skills they learned fighting alongside our own forces. The culprits who are truly to blame are the decision-makers in Washington who orchestrated the debacle that unfolded when we pulled out. Those fighters had few if any other options.
Kasza also notes the irony of the fact that when those soldiers arrive on the front lines in the Donbas, they will come under fire from the same American weapons that supported them in their home country. With all of that in mind, Thomas Kasza is calling on Congress to undertake a thorough investigation of not just our botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, but the ongoing damage that has been taking place ever since. Congress needs to support immediate action by the NGOs that are trying to reach out and help those people who were left behind, though the swamp dwellers have thus far done little or nothing along those lines. As Tom Kasza put it, we owe a debt and should help pay the NGOs as they do the job that Washington and the Pentagon refuse to do.