An alarming trend of Afghan soldiers going AWOL (absent without leave) while being trained inside the United States was highlighted in a government report published last week.

The report, titled “U.S.-based training for Afghanistan security personnel: trainees who go absent without leave hurt readiness and morale, and may create security risks” was released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) on Tuesday.

Among the more disturbing numbers in the report, SIGAR reported that 152 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) members have gone AWOL since 2005 while they were in the United States on official duty. According to the report, 83 either fled the United States or remain unaccounted for, and only 27 have been arrested or removed by law enforcement. Of all the foreign forces which have gone AWOL in the United States since 2005, a full fifty percent of them were from Afghanistan.

The report cites a number of reasons which could give context to the problem. Primarily, threats from the Taliban against the trainees themselves and their families have discouraged many from returning home, a common problem throughout the Afghan security forces, even those inside of Afghanistan.

The Afghan Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior are also wholly inept at managing the personnel which are being sent to the United States for training and re-integrating them back into the Afghan security forces. Many trainees must also contend with corrupt Afghan government officials. One C130 electrician school trainee said that he “did not expect to have a job upon his return to Afghanistan,” and that “a number of his colleagues who had already completed their training returned home to find that their billets had been given to those willing to pay a bribe.”

In other cases, a rule mandating that soldiers who spend more than 12 months in training get shifted automatically to the reserves further complicates placing trained personnel into the right jobs.

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The vast majority of the Afghan soldiers going AWOL are officers: 103 of the 152 trainees. Of the myriad things the Afghan defense forces require, effective leadership is one of them, further indication of the dysfunction occurring within the Afghan government.

According to SIGAR, AWOL cases spiked in 2009, and then again in 2015 and 2016 consecutively.

Image courtesy of the Department of Defense