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More Afghan troops flee military training in US – report

Afghan troops and police visiting the US for military training go ‘absent without leave’ (AWOL) much more often than military trainees brought to the US from other countries, a fresh report revealed.

“Nearly half of all foreign military trainees that went AWOL while training in the United States since 2005 were from Afghanistan,” said a report by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), published this week. 

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According to the paper, 152 of the 320 foreign trainees (or 47 percent) who fled the program over the course of the last 12 years were from Afghanistan, raising concerns about the program’s procedures. 

Only 27 Afghan trainees who went AWOL have been located by US authorities. Meanwhile, 89 deserters were able to flee the US or “remain unaccounted for,” SIGAR said. 

In the report, the watchdog pointed out that “tendency of Afghan trainees in the United States to go AWOL may hinder the operational readiness of their home units, negatively impact the morale of fellow trainees and home units, and pose security risks to the United States.” 

Though Afghan trainees are considered “high risk,” SIGAR was “not aware of any acts of terrorism or similarly serious acts” on their part. All Afghan trainees are supposed to be carefully vetted for security reasons before being allowed to enter the US.

Over 2,500 Afghan soldiers and police have been brought to the US for training since 2005, after Washington pledged to help the Afghanistan authorities to be able to provide security in the country on their own. 

The report revealed that the number of Afghans going missing in the US has sharply increased in recent years, which saw a spike in violence in Afghanistan due to the increased Taliban activity. 

READ MORE: Soldier used TV show ‘Cops’ to learn to train Afghan police – watchdog

Last year, the number of desertions among the Afghan trainees doubled to reach 13 percent, compared to an average of between 6 and 7 percent. The average number of desertions among trainees from other countries stood at 0.07 percent, the paper added. 

To cope with the situation, SIGAR urged the US authorities to develop “processes and procedures that increase the likelihood that ANDSF (Afghan National Security Forces) personnel returning from training in the United States will be placed in positions that take advantage of their newly acquired skills.” 

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Among other measures, it suggested personal interviews with the trainees before they are granted a US visa. 

According to SIGAR, the US State Department has examined the report and said that “the number of trainees who go Absent Without Leave (AWOL) in association with these programs is unacceptably high.” 

The Department agreed that “all trainees should return to Afghanistan to implement their US-provided training in service to their nation,” but didn’t back any of SIGAR’s initiatives.

Over 100,000 Afghan security personnel were trained by American instructors over the years, both in Afghanistan and the US. 

However, SIGAR said in September that the costly US effort has failed to produce an Afghan “force that was not able to provide nationwide security, especially as that force faced a larger threat than anticipated after the drawdown of coalition military forces.”

The watchdog said the Afghan troops were ill-prepared to handle state-of-the-art equipment, largely due to the fact their US trainers were understaffed and themselves lacked qualification. 

Washington is estimated to have spent over $780 billion in taxpayer money on military assistance, reconstruction and economic aid to Afghanistan during in a 17-year-long conflict. 

In late August, the Pentagon awarded a another contract worth over $727 million in support of the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing unit.

The US also decide to added another 4,000 troops to the 9,000-strong American contingent currently deployed in Afghanistan on a mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces. 

There seems to be no end in sight for the longest American war, which has already resulted in over 2,400 US soldiers being killed. 

But Afghan civilians have been hit the hardest – some 1,662 were killed in the first half of 2017 alone, according to a mid-year report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

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