Since 2005, 152 Afghan trainees brought to the U.S. to learn to fight the Taliban have gone AWOL, with 83 of them either fleeing the country successfully or remaining missing. Last year, according to a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), 13 percent of the hundreds of soldiers brought to the U.S. each year went missing with that number expected to climb in the future.
“Given the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the fact that Afghan trainees who violate the terms of their visas suffer virtually no consequences for going AWOL (except for the possible return to Afghanistan)… the AWOL rate is likely to either remain steady or increase,” says the inspector general’s report published Friday.
The last few days have been a grim reminder of what Afghan soldiers may be seeking to escape after a series of attacks on Afghan security units in Kabul killed more than 70 people on Monday and Tuesday. Today, a suicide bombing in a mosque in the city killed at least 30 people.
The Taliban is still active in Afghanistan, with a report last week of a massive blast and subsequent battle in the city of Gardez in Paktia province. The attack, between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces, left 41 dead and 158 wounded. The dead were mostly civilians, according to the Afghan interior ministry.
Another attack was reported in nearby Ghazni province that claimed the lives of 25 security officials and five civilians with 10 wounded.
U.S. immigration officials have concerns about the AWOL soldiers, primarily due to the fact that they are not as strictly vetted by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) counterterrorism unit. However, the special inspector general’s report indicates they are “not aware of any acts of terrorism or similarly serious acts involving Afghan trainees who have gone AWOL.”
Many of the AWOL trainees flee to Canada, although some are eventually apprehended; as was the case with two Afghan trainee pilots that disappeared from Moody Air Force Base in Georgia just prior to a scheduled return to Afghanistan. One of them was later found in Virginia.
In addition to being a security threat, the missing trainees also negatively impact morale as a higher rate of desertion means a lower number of courses offered to Afghan security personnel and a drop in operational readiness.
According to the ABC News report, Afghan policies could be exacerbating the problem. “Many soldiers are not even guaranteed a job when they go back after training in the U.S. Afghan policy does not require units to return trainees to their previous positions or provide them roles that use the training they just received, according to the inspector general’s report.”