Forty-four Afghan soldiers in the U.S. for military training have gone absent without leave (AWOL) in the last two years, Reuters reports.
The U.S. has little idea where the vanished soldiers, who presumably do not want to go back to Afghanistan, are located. Nearly 2,200 Afghan soldiers have come to the U.S. for military training since 2007. Security screening procedures of the soldiers by the Department of Defense are unclear.
A U.S. defense official confirmed to Reuters that the Afghan disappearance rate is “out of the ordinary” in comparison to other foreign military AWOL rates.
“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,” Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump disclosed.
The Afghan Security Forces lost nearly 900 men in July alone, and are having their bloodiest year since the U.S. invasion in 2001. Since the end of the NATO combat mission in 2014, the Taliban controls more territory in the country than at any time since 2001. The U.S. military admits the Afghan forces only control approximately 70 percent of the country at best.
The spike in desertions among Afghan soldiers training in the U.S. directly coincides with the high casualty rate in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama recently loosened the U.S. rules of engagement in Afghanistan, and committed a significant contingent of U.S. forces up until 2001, to bolster the Afghan Security Forces.
Worse, Al-Qaida operations have also increased throughout Afghanistan since the end of U.S. combat mission in 2014. The U.S. assisted an Afghan-led operation in 2015 that destroyed the largest al-Qaida training camp seen in the history of the Afghan war. U.S.-backed Afghan forces raided another al-Qaida training base Sept. 19.
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