More than 200 Afghan military trainees have gone absent without leave in the United States since February and only a dozen remain at large, Military Times reported.
“As of Feb. 21, 2019, 228 international military students from Afghanistan have been identified as AWOL,” Carissa Cutrell, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, told the newspaper that covers the US military. “These are across the U.S.”
“ICE’s Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit continues to monitor the remaining 12 AWOL cases for future enforcement actions,” the newspaper quoted Cutrell as saying.
According to the report, the number of Afghans who have been reported AWOL in the U.S. has increased by 50 percent over the last two years. Between 2005 and 2017, more than 2,500 Afghan military personnel came to the U.S. for training. During that timeframe, 152 Afghans went AWOL, according to a U.S. government watchdog report in October 2017.
Military Times requested more information from immigration officials after it was announced that the Pentagon ended a training program for Afghan pilots in Fort Worth, Texas, because more than half went AWOL.
“Although some worry that the missing Afghans are a national security risk, the trainees tend to go AWOL on years that coincide with much higher levels of violence on the battlefield back home,” according to the watchdog report.
Afghan troops have also received asylum in the U.S. when their lives are directly threatened by insurgents. The reasons most often cited for going AWOL, according to the watchdog report, were safety concerns and a perceived lack of job security in Afghanistan following training.
Afghanistan’s military has one of the highest desertion rate in the world while fatalities of Afghan troops is highest in the world. President Ashraf Ghani revealed last November that the country has lost more than 28,000 police officers and soldiers since 2015.