Oct. 22 (UPI) — More than 150 Afghan troops training in the United States have fled military bases and gone AWOL since 2005, according to a new military watchdog report.
Of that total, 13 of the trainees were still at large and 70 fled the United States as of March 7. Among the others, 39 gained legal status in the United States, 27 were arrested, removed or in the process of being taken out of the United States and three returned to their training base.
They have fled bases that include Lackland Air Force Base in Texas; Fort Rucker, Ala.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
The report noted that AWOLs have increased as the death toll of Afghan police and military rose. In the latest incident Saturday, at least 15 military cadets died in a bombing of their minibus in Kabul, bringing the death toll from attacks in Afghanistan to more than 150 in one week.
Nearly $70 billion has been spent to train and equip the Afghan security forces, the report said.
John F. Sopke, the inspector general, said the numbers will increase because “the security situation in Afghanistan has continued to deteriorate.”
He noted numbers have been increasing because of threats of death, widespread corruption and dismal job prospects.
“We found that the increasing instances of AWOL since 2015 may have had a negative impact on operational readiness of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces units and the morale of fellow trainees and home units, and posed security risks to the United States,” Sopke said.
Sopke, in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, suggested Defense Department mentors “work closely” with Afghanistan’s defense and interior ministries. He also suggested better coordination with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, addressed his concerns in a letter to Tillerson and Duke.
“There are so many problems here, it’s hard to know where to start,” Grassley said in a release. “If the U.S. government can’t keep tabs on foreign military trainees, maybe the training shouldn’t take place in the United States. The report also shines new light on the old problem of agency failures to communicate with each other, even under the same departmental umbrella. They have to do a better job of that, especially those fulfilling the No. 1 responsibility of the federal government of protecting the homeland.”