FT. LEONARD WOOD - A program that brought more than 150 Afghan soldiers to the United States to train currently is missing 13 soldiers.
The program has trained Afghan soldiers since 2005 in the U.S. and is sponsored by both the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of State.
The Office of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report Thursday with an update on the missing trainees.
The report showed that 152 Afghan trainees went AWOL. As of March 7, 2017, 70 of them fled the United States; 39 gained legal status in the United States; 27 were arrested, removed or are soon to be removed; three who are being returned to their U.S-based training; and 13 who are still AWOL.
Senator Claire McCaskill wrote a letter Friday to Secretary James Mattis of the U.S. Department of Defense asking for answers. In her letter, she outlines why this is an issue for Missouri.
“SIGAR reported that 11 trainees went AWOL from Ft. Leonard Wood in my home state of Missouri,” she wrote. “It is still unclear from SIGAR’s report whether all of those trainees are accounted for.”
Both SIGAR and McCaskill see AWOL soldiers as an issue of security for American citizens.
The SIGAR report stated, “We found that the increasing instances of AWOL since 2015 may have had a negative impact on operational readiness of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) units and the morale of fellow trainees and home units, and posed security risks to the United States.”
The SIGAR report also explained trainees go AWOL for personal and job security reasons.
McCaskill wrote, “Several Afghans who went AWOL state they feared for the safety of themselves and their families if they were to return there. Several also stated that they were unsure they would have a job when they returned because their billets would have been given to another Afghan soldier or police officer.”
McCaskill posed eight specific questions in her letter to the U.S. Department of Defense, giving them until November 10, 2017, as a deadline to respond.