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Afghans Account for Nearly Half of Foreign Troops Who Go AWOL in US

International military students receive a class assignment from Andrea Gjorevski during a general English class at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 2010. Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios/Air Force
International military students receive a class assignment from Andrea Gjorevski during a general English class at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 2010. Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios/Air Force

Nearly half of the foreign troops training in the U.S. who go absent without leave are from Afghanistan, a government watchdog report said Friday.

Of the 352 foreign troops who were absent without leave since 2005 in the U.S., 152 were from Afghanistan, according to the report by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

The report said 83 of the 152 AWOL Afghans either fled the U.S. or were unaccounted for, while 27 have been arrested or removed from the U.S. by law enforcement.

According to the Pentagon, about 2,200 Afghan personnel have trained in the U.S. since 2007.

The AWOL rate among Afghan trainees has also been increasing, SIGAR said.

Forty-four of the total 152 Afghan AWOL cases occurred between January 2015 and October 2016, according to U.S. Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A).

The report quoted Army Maj. Gen. Richard Kaiser, CSTC-A commander, as saying the Afghan Ministry of Defense "does not have a comprehensive policy for preventing its members from going AWOL while enrolled in U.S.-funded training or addressing what happens when AWOLs occur."

The base that had the largest number of Afghan trainees go AWOL was Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, where Afghan trainees are required to attend English-language courses, the report said.

In response to the report, the secretary of the Air Force's Internal Affairs office recommended establishing a position for an Afghan Liaison Officer at Joint Base San Antonio to "address student needs and quality-of-life issues, and work with the training facility leadership to solve any other issues that may arise."

According to the SIGAR report, some of the AWOL Afghans said later in interviews that they left bases in the U.S. or tried to return home because of threats against their families by the Taliban.

"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.," the report said.

The report concluded the AWOL incidents among Afghan trainees "may have had a negative impact on operational readiness of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) units and the morale of fellow trainees and home units, and posed security risks to the United States."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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