SIGAR: Alarming rate of Afghan trainees in the US are going AWOL

A new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) revealed that 50 percent of all foreign military personnel that went AWOL (“Absent Without Leave”) while receiving training in the US since 2005 were from Afghanistan. This is an alarming rate considering that Afghan forces have only made up one percent of foreign military personnel trained in the same time frame. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has deemed ANDSF trainees that have gone AWOL “to be high risk because they involve militarily trained individuals of a fighting age who have demonstrated a ‘flight risk.'”

SIGAR reported 152 ANDSF personnel have gone AWOL since 2005. Of those, “83 either fled the United States or remain unaccounted for, and only 27 have been arrested or removed by law enforcement.” Factors such as poor administrative planning and support, low morale, and increased Taliban threats personally-targeting trainees and their families were cited as primary causes for Afghan personnel going AWOL. Variations of these same problems have led to high attrition rates within the ANDSF ranks in Afghanistan as well, as noted by SIGAR this fall in a comprehensive “lessons learned” report.

SIGAR pointed out that administrative flaws plague the process for Afghan trainees traveling to and from the US for training. Vetting and investigations of AWOL cases are carried out by US agencies, but “issues with interagency coordination have hindered investigatory efforts to locate AWOL trainees.” On top of this, there are few, if any, consequences for trainees who have gone AWOL. Fifty-six of the trainees who went AWOL did so from the same base in San Antonio, Texas.

On the Afghan administrative end, responsibility for what happens to a trainee when they return to Afghanistan falls to the oft-inept Afghan Ministry of Defense and Ministry of the Interior. SIGAR conducted interviews with ANDSF personnel trained in the US who expressed that they “did not expect to have a job upon return to Afghanistan,” or “were reportedly asked to pay bribes to get their jobs back.” The Afghan government also requires anyone in training for more than a year be moved to the reserves, making re-entry into active duty roles unnecessarily difficult for US-trained ANDSF personnel. These issues speak to a failure of the program’s goal to place US-trained Afghans into strategic and influential roles in the fight against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

Some 103 of the 152 trainees who went AWOL were company-grade officers; this particularly alarming ratio shows how the AWOL trend ultimately damages operational readiness of forces back in Afghanistan.

Trainees interviewed by SIGAR also stated that they were apprehensive to return to Afghanistan out of fear of being targeted by the Taliban specifically for having trained in the US. One such interview cited a trainee saying “the Taliban visited her home and threatened her family because of her involvement with the US, two others stated that their families had received threatening Taliban letters or phone calls.”

For years, the US has brought Afghan trainees stateside for training initiatives meant to bolster and educate ANDSF personnel in an effort to enhance coordination with US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the conflict with the Taliban continues to deteriorate across the country. Just this week, the Taliban attacked a police headquarters, killing 41, and an Afghan Army base, killing another 40-60. With a surging Taliban striking fear into the minds of prospective ANDSF candidates, and US-trained AWOL cases on the rise, the future of the US-based training program looks bleak.

Concrete assurances and oversight must be implemented to benefit the process for trainees, both on the US and Afghanistan side. If not, DoD and SIGAR conclude “that the AWOL rate is likely to either remain steady or increase.”


Phil Hegseth is a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal.

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  • Mark Matis says:

    Quelle surprise! But then I’m certain that they all were properly vetted before being let into the US, and therefor there is simply no way they pose a threat. Or not…

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    I can understand an individual not wanting to have to return to Afghanistan, … but what about the incidence of turncoat Afghanis in the police and military? Theoretically, what price would al Qaida be willing to pay one’s family “in country” in order to gain the allegiance of an Afghani officer in the States?

  • sam says:

    when found shoot on sight!

  • Moose says:

    I wouldn’t automatically believe that they were asked to pay bribes to get their jobs back. Afghan culture requires one to save face at all cost. Self-reporting and interviewing doesn’t work the same way in a place like Afghanistan as it does in the West.

  • irebukeu says:

    DEE-Zas-ter. Is this April 1st already? Please tell me this is some kind of prank being played on the American people. What is the color designation for unarmed civilians? Eventually you will get a green on (whatever that color might be for unarmed civilians). This is dumber than sending Americans with guns to Afghanistan. We are now bringing Afghans with guns to America. Great. Just great. Put a big stack of body bags on the shelf. Eventually they will be needed.
    Funny thing is we vetted them real good I’m sure, yet half deceived us. Do they have a network to run to?

  • Rosario says:

    Phil, curious article. Did SIGAR mention how many afghan officers /personel have been trained in total? By your words 152/50%= 304, is that correct? How many afghan officers have actually returned to afghanistan? How does this afghan AWOL figure compare to to other AWOL foreign officers , like Iraqi officers/personel who have been trained in the US? Any foreign military officer going AWOL in the US is a problem, and may not be necessarily isolated to afghans. Your article leaves me the impression to afghan national army officer core is disintegrating, was that your intention?

  • Leslie Bryant says:

    Very sad! Just reflects continued Fraud, Waste and Abuse of US dollars and military assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and Ministry of the Interior. Clearly neither values US training if US trained Afghani officers go into the reserves. The bigger issue is the failure of the US Department of Defense and Security Assistance Officers to set, coordinate, monitor and evaluate the policies and conditions of US training and jobs Afghan US trained officers return to. Calling out corrupt Afghani Ministry officers also wouldn’t hurt.

  • Jay says:

    Looks like the STUPIDITY in America has reached a new high. Interesting that we can contain U.S. recruits in training, but not foreigners that could be dangerous.

  • Nato21 says:

    It’s hardly surprising that some of these guys decide to jump ship once they discover America. Their prospects upon returning to Afghanistan are bleak at best. Faced with endless skirmishes and outpost duty in the hinterlands of Afghanistan or a minimum wage job in the hinterlands of America. I think the results are in nobody appears to be interested in Afghanistan. Can’t say I blame them for jumpin’ that sinking ship.

  • Gute says:

    Not surprising who wants to go back to that s-hole. The Oaks did the same thing when brought to the U.S. For specialized anti narcotics training. As you know we care a very impressive country.

  • Gute says:

    *Paks not oaks

  • Gute says:

    Freaking auto correct. Oppressive not impressive. Are and not care. I apologize for my commenting mess.

  • Verneoz says:

    “One such interview cited a trainee saying “the Taliban visited her home and threatened her family because of her involvement with the US…” Therein, lies part of the problem. Trying to westernize Afghan women is not where the US should be focusing their human rights efforts. First, women need education, pregnancy-child development training, voting rights, and the right to run for political office. The feminism agenda can wait for a few decades until Afghanistan can stand on its own two feet. You cannot move a backward, primitive, & illiterate population into the 21st century by forcing western values on them in the front of the development process..

  • irebukeu says:

    Paks? Pakistanis? Are you kidding me? Oh please tell me you are joking.


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