As part of the multi-billion dollar effort to help Afghanistan, the US invites Afghan soldiers and police to come to stateside military bases for training. But it turns out more than just a few of them have disappeared, or gone AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave, in America.
Sopko: What we discovered that over half of all trainees who come to the United States from any country over half of the ones that go AWOL are Afghans. So we wanted to find out more about that because obviously there's a problem with the vetting and oversight of who we send here.
Sharyl: How many people are we talking about?
Sopko: I think about 150 Afghans have gone AWOL.
Sharyl: In 2016, the percentage of Afghan trainees who went AWOL from U.S.based training doubled. Of 152 Afghan trainees gone AWOL in the US, only 27 have been caught or removed. 83 either fled the US or remain unaccounted for. Did they just disappear into America somewhere?
Sopko: Well there's about 20 of them we don't even know where they are some got caught trying to get to Canada or go someplace else. But many of them just disappeared.
Sharyl: You mean they're on military bases getting training?
Sharyl: And they just disappear?
Sopko: They just they don't show up one day and they disappear, right. And we really have some problems with that and we think we need to look at it.
Sharyl: Five trainees told the Inspector General that their lives were in danger if they returned to Afghanistan after US training. Four said the Islamic extremist Taliban threatened or attacked their families.
Sopko: What's also interesting is why they go AWOL, many of them because they don't want to go back to Afghanistan because of the security. The other reason is some were upset with the fact that they have to pay a bribe to get their job back and the military back in Afghanistan so they refuse to pay a bribe. So that was kind of interesting in our review.
Sharyl: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement consider the AWOL trainees to be a high-security risk because they're military-trained men of fighting age with little to no risk of getting arrested for ducking out on their training. But Sopko says the State Department is resistant to tightening up their vetting of the Afghan trainees.
Sopko: So we're asking the Department Defense, Department Homeland Security to take a look at the process. They were very receptive to our suggestions. It is the State Department, the State Department that interviews everyone who gets a visa to come in out of Afghanistan. They decided it wasn't relevant to interview the Afghan soldiers when the soldiers come here to train. Sopko: And what we found troubling is that the State Department doesn't want to change the way that we vet these people even though we identified the problem. They just sort of ignored it.
Sopko says that because of "the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the fact that Afghan trainees who violate their visas suffer virtually no consequences, the AWOL rate is likely to either remain steady or increase."