Small Wars Journal

Afghan Trainees Absent Without Leave in the United States

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 3:54pm

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report (Afghan Trainees Absent Without Leave in the United States) Tuesday concerning Afghan security personnel who went absent without leave (AWOL) while in the United States for training.

Highlights from the report follows:

1. Nearly half of all foreign military trainees that went AWOL while training in the United States since 2005 were from Afghanistan (152 of 320).

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. One trainee stated that after she left for training, the Taliban visited her home and threatened her family because of her involvement with the U.S., two others stated that their families had received threatening letters or phone calls from the Taliban, and another claimed that his family had been attacked due to his training in the U.S. and eventually had to change residences.

6. 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.

7. One trainee claimed that he did not expect to have a job upon his return 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.

8. Trainees generally do not know what job they will return to, in part because Afghan policy does not require units to either return trainees to their previous position or provide them a position that may utilize the training received in the United States.

9. Because the Afghan government requires Afghans that are in training longer than one year be moved to reserve status, when they return to Afghanistan it can take months to get back on active duty.

10. Consular officials are not allowed to require that a candidate demonstrate an intent to return to Afghanistan following the completion of training as is the case for B1/B2 type visa applicants.

11. ICE officials we spoke with expressed concern that USCIS does not consult with investigating ICE agents throughout the asylum process. The first direct opportunity ICE has to present any derogatory information concerning an AWOL Afghan trainee is at the immigration hearing—a process that can take up to two years after a trainee first went AWOL or applied for asylum.

12. Afghan trainees who have gone AWOL are considered by ICE 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.

13. The large number of Afghan trainees who go AWOL from U.S.-based training has contributed to a reduction in the number of courses being offered to ANDSF personnel, and limit the opportunities others have to attend training in the United States. One Afghan Captain we interviewed stated that “if a student absconds, it affects his unit and the commander will not allow his soldiers to get into future trainings. Scholarship and other training would be restricted for soldiers.”

14. Trainees we spoke with indicated that recent AWOL cases had a negative impact on morale, and the negative publicity that resulted from these incidents was generally seen as bringing shame to Afghanistan and made life more difficult for the trainees who had no intention of going AWOL.

15. In 2016, the percentage of Afghan trainees who went AWOL from U.S.-based training doubled from the historical average of 6-7 percent to 13 percent. Further, 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 believes, and we agree, that the AWOL rate is likely to either remain steady or increase.