By Rick Moran
According to a report from the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, 152 soldiers from the Afghan army who had been selected for special training in the United States have gone AWOL while on U.S. soil.
According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, 13 of the 152 who had gone AWOL were still at large as of March 7 of this year. Seventy of the 152 had fled the United States; 39 gained legal status in the U.S.; and 27 were arrested, removed or in the process of being removed from the U.S. Three no longer were AWOL or returned to their training base in the U.S.
“There are so many problems here, it’s hard to know where to start,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement. “This is bad for national security, bad for Afghan military readiness, and bad for U.S. taxpayers.”
AWOL Afghans are considered a security risk in the U.S. because they have military training and are of fighting age, and relatively few are ever arrested or detained.
Nearly all the Afghans who fled since 2005 were officers. Most were what the military calls “company grade” officers, meaning they were at the rank of lieutenant or captain. The prevalence of this group to abandon training posts is “particularly alarming,” the report said, given the officers’ important role in maintaining the overall readiness of the Afghan military.
The Afghans have fled from posts across America, including Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where they are required to take English-language training; Fort Rucker, Ala.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
The report cited numerous bureaucratic impediments to catching AWOL Afghans. They are required to provide limited biographical and background information while in the U.S., which can make it difficult to track them down, it said. Also, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents cannot take any action to locate a missing Afghan trainee until the departments of Defense and State take certain actions to revoke the individual’s official status. This delays the start of an ICE investigation in which time is of the essence, the report said.
With so many “green on blue” attacks in Afghanistan carried out by rogue Afghan soldiers, you would think the U.S. would carefully vet any Afghan army personnel before they got to the United States. The fact that they are required to provide only “limited biographical and background information” is extremely troubling.
The fact that there is only a small risk that any of these AWOL soldiers will become terrorists, or were infiltrated into the U.S. by the Taliban, is beside the point. It’s a risk we shouldn’t have to run if officials had done their job correctly.