Report: Dozens of Afghan troops training in US are missing
We've covered several stories in the last few years involving two or three Afghan soldiers training in the U.S. who went AWOL. Now Reuters has an exclusive report that reveals a far larger problem.
According to the report, 44 Aghan soldiers training in the U.S. have gone missing over the last two years. It is believed that most of these soldiers are living and working illegally in the U.S. But the Pentagon isn't sure. And given the numerous incidents of Afghan soldiers attacking NATO troops, the possibility of Taliban infiltration of Afghan army recruits sent to the U.S. for training cannot be dismissed.
Although the number of disappearances is relatively small -- some 2,200 Afghan troops have received military training in the United States since 2007 -- the incidents raise questions about security and screening procedures for the programs.
They are also potentially embarrassing for U.S. President Barack Obama's administration, which has spent billions of dollars training Afghan troops as Washington seeks to extricate itself from the costly, 15-year-old war. The disclosure could fuel criticism by supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has accused the Obama administration of failing to properly vet immigrants from Muslim-majority countries and has pledged a much tougher stance if he wins.
While other foreign troops on U.S. military training visits have sometimes run away, a U.S. defense official said that the frequency of Afghan troops going missing was concerning and "out of the ordinary."
Since September alone, eight Afghan troops have left military bases without authorization, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump told Reuters. He said the total number of Afghan troops who have gone missing since January 2015 is 44, a number that has not previously been disclosed.
"The Defense Department is assessing ways to strengthen eligibility criteria for training in ways that will reduce the likelihood of an individual Afghan willingly absconding from training in the U.S. and going AWOL (absent without leave)," Stump said.
Afghans in the U.S. training program are vetted to ensure they have not participated in human rights abuses and are not affiliated with militant groups before being allowed into the United States, Stump said.
The defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added there was no evidence any of those who had absconded had carried out crimes or posed a threat to the United States.
The Afghan army has occasionally been infiltrated by Taliban militants who have carried out attacks on Afghan and U.S. troops, but such incidents have become less frequent due to tougher security measures.
I agree that the chances that any of these missing soldiers is a Taliban plant is small but significant enough to redouble our efforts to find them.
Beyond that, it shouldn't surprise us that soldiers fighting for a corrupt, incompetent government who is losing the war should want to live somewhere else. That's no excuse not to go through legal channels to immigrate to the U.S., but it should be a wake-up call to the Pentagon, who does background checks and vets the troops coming here to train.