(CNSNews.com) – Between 2005 and 2017, 253,977 foreigners came to the United States for military training — 2,537 of them from Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in a report released on Friday.
During that time, 320 foreign trainees went AWOL in the United States. And of those 320 AWOL trainees, 152 of them (47.5 percent) were from Afghanistan.
As of March 7, 2017, the status of the 152 Afghan trainees who went AWOL included:
–70 who fled the United States;
–39 who gained legal status in the United States;
–27 who were arrested, removed, or are being processed for removal from the United States;
–13 who were still AWOL or remained unaccounted for;
–and 3 who were no longer AWOL or who returned to their U.S.-based training.
“Although we are not aware of any acts of terrorism or similarly serious acts involving Afghan trainees who have gone AWOL, such cases are considered by the CTCEU (ICE’s Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit) to be high risk because they involve militarily trained individuals of a fighting age who have demonstrated a ‘flight risk,’ and have little or no risk of arrest and detention for absconding from training,” the report said.
The report notes that Afghan military trainees went AWOL from 23 different locations in the United States. The largest number (56) absconded from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where Afghan trainees are required to attend English-language training. Sixteen trainees absconded from Ft. Rucker, Alabama; 13 from Ft. Benning, Georgia; and 11 from Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri.
According to current and former trainees interviewed by SIGAR, the reasons most often cited by Afghans were personal/family safety concerns and perceived job insecurity in Afghanistan following training.
Afghan trainees who went AWOL while training in the United States include 103 company grade officers (46 second lieutenants, 40 first lieutenants, and 17 captains); 20 personnel for which a rank is unknown; 19 non-commissioned officers; and 9 field grade officers (4 majors, 3 lieutenant colonels, and 2 colonels); and one civilian.
In addition to U.S. security concerns, “The tendency of Afghan trainees in the United States to go AWOL may hinder the operational readiness of their home units, negatively impact the morale of fellow trainees and home units,” the report said.
Meanwhile, thousands of U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, trying to build up the capabilities of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, an effort that has cost the U.S. government billions of dollars since the war began in 2001.
According to the SIGAR report:
Afghan trainees travel to the United States on A-2 visas, the same visas issued to diplomats and other foreign government officials traveling to the United States to engage solely in official duties or activities on behalf of their national governments.
A-2 visa applicants may have their in-person interviews waived by State Department consular officials. Moreover, even if consular officials require prospective Afghan trainees to appear in person, they are not allowed to require that the candidate demonstrate an intent to return to Afghanistan following the completion of training as is the case for B1/B2 type visa applicants.
ICE told SIGAR, “The limited vetting of the A-2 applicants creates potential national security vulnerabilities for the United States.”
SIGAR found that the likelihood of Afghan trainees to go AWOL has increased in recent years as the security situation in Afghanistan has continued to deteriorate. “The issue of Afghan trainees going AWOL continues to be a problem,” the report said.
The report recommends improvements in the process for selecting and vetting ANDSF personnel for training.
“If corrected, these processes could help improve the likelihood that Afghan trainees will complete their training, return to Afghanistan, and put to use the knowledge, skills, and ability garnered through advanced U.S.-based training,” the report concluded.