Pentagon mulling ways to keep Afghan troops from going AWOL while training in U.S.

WASHINGTON,  So many U.S.-trained Afghan soldiers are literally walking away from their posts that the Pentagon is now looking for ways to make sure new recruits stay committed to their programs while stationed inside the United States.

U.S. Army soldiers lead a military training exercise for Afghan National Police officers in Herat, Afghanistan. Thursday, the U.S. Department of Defense said it is looking at options to make sure Afghan recruits who train inside the United States remain committed to the program and defending their homeland from Taliban and terrorist forces. The Pentagon’s evaluation, which may lead to more stringent eligibility requirements, is a response to 45 Afghan recruits going AWOL while training at various U.S. locations since 2015. File Photo by Hossein Fatemi/UPI | License Photo

The U.S. Department of Defense said 45 Afghan recruits have gone AWOL — absent without leave — over the last two years while training at various locations inside the United States.

Twenty-five of the recruits went AWOL last year and 20 more have followed suit so far this year.

Most of the missing soldiers have been located and punished, but the problem raises concerns among U.S. military leaders that the eligibility requirements for new recruits might not be stringent enough.

“Of the 45 AWOL Afghans, 32 have been located,” Navy Cmdr. Patrick Evans said Thursday, adding that some of those recruits “may have been apprehended and deported, arrested and in a civilian jail.”

The whereabouts of the remaining 13 AWOL recruits are unknown, he said.

Some of the recruits were training at top-level facilities in the United States, including the Army’s Ranger School, when they deserted.

As a result, Pentagon officials are now “assessing ways to strengthen eligibility criteria for training in ways that will reduce the likelihood of an individual Afghan willingly absconding from training,” Evans said.

Officials, though, emphasize that most trainees who come to the United States successfully complete their programs. Since 2007, more than 2,200 Afghan recruits have completed U.S.-based training.

It’s believed some recruits go AWOL to remain inside the United States or seek sanctuary elsewhere.

Since 2001, the U.S. government has spent billions of dollars to strengthen Afghanistan’s defense forces and fortify them to resist Taliban and insurgent terrorist factions in the battle-scarred Middle Eastern nation. About 10,000 American servicemen and women are still stationed there in support and advisory roles, the Pentagon said.

By Doug G. Ware