Since 2005, some 310 foreign trainees went absent without leave (AWOL) while in military training in the United States. Nearly half of them, 152, were from Afghanistan, according to a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report released on Friday.
“Of the 152 AWOL Afghan trainees, 83 either fled the United States after going AWOL or remain unaccounted for, and only 27 of the 152 (approximately 18 percent) have been arrested or removed by law enforcement,” the report said.
One trainee interviewed by the watchdog for the report said the Taliban armed rebels visited her home after she left for the U.S. and threatened her family. Two other trainers recalled receiving threatening letters or phone calls from the Taliban, while another stated that his family had been attacked and forced to relocate.
“Five trainees we talked to claimed that their lives in Afghanistan were in danger if they returned to Afghanistan as a result of their being in United States for training,” the report said.
In addition, some of the trainers were concerned that they would not be able to find jobs upon returning to Afghanistan.
“Of five senior Afghan enlisted soldiers who returned to Afghanistan from a yearlong Command Sergeant course, four left the ANA after they were reportedly asked to pay bribes to get their jobs back,” SIGAR noted.
The watchdog said Afghan trainees have indicated that the AWOL cases had impacted morale since the negative publicity associated with the incidents was perceived as shame to Afghanistan. SIGAR warned that disappearances might also undermine the operational readiness of Afghan trainees’ home units.
“The limited vetting of Afghan trainees, and the restrictions of the investigatory and asylum processes, may pose a security risk to the United States when trainees go AWOL,” the report added.
In 2005-2017, the U.S. military has trained 253,977 foreigners, and 2,537 of them were Afghans. According to U.S. authorities, the number of AWOL cases involving Afghan trainees doubled from the historical average of 6-7 percent to 13 percent in 2016.
“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, DOD [Department of Defense] believes, and we agree, that the AWOL rate is likely to either remain steady or increase,” the report concluded.