DOD: Number of Afghans Going AWOL During US Training Increasing

This chart represents the locations where Afghan service members went absent without leave (AWOL) and the total numbers of AWOL troops since March 2015. Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

An increasing number of Afghan military members training in the United States have gone missing, a trend that is limiting the effectiveness of the Afghan military itself and threatening the national security of the US, a Pentagon investigation found.

The Defense Department’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, in an alarming report released Friday, found that “in 2016 the percentage of Afghan trainees who went AWOL from US-based training doubled from a historical average of 6 [to] 7 percent to 13 percent.” This increase has, in turn, reduced the number of courses offered to Afghan personnel, because once an Afghan service member absconds, the military is less likely to offer that opportunity again, the SIGAR report found.

There are 152 total absent without leave Afghan trainees, 83 of which either fled the US or are still unaccounted for, the report found. Just 27 have been arrested or removed by law enforcement, the report found.

Of all US-based training locations, the Air Force’s JBSA-Lackland, Texas, has accounted for the most AWOL Afghan trainees—56. Afghan students attend English-language training at the base.

SIGAR interviewed several Afghan service members about why they left, with many saying their lives would be in danger if they returned to Afghanistan. Others reported being forced to pay bribes to return to their jobs, or their families receiving threats from the Taliban.

The report found that there is a limited vetting process of the students selected for travel to the US, and there are also restrictions of the investigatory and asylum processes, which “may pose a security risk to the United States when trainees go AWOL,” the report states. (Read the report)