AWOL Afghans Get Canadian Status After Fleeing Texas

AWOL Afghans get Canadian status after fleeing Texas

Kenyon Wallace
National Post
Saturday, Jul. 31, 2010

At least eight members of the Afghan military wanted by U.S. authorities after fleeing a Texas air force base have attained permanent resident status in Canada or are awaiting decisions on refugee claims.

Of 17 Afghan National Army personnel who have gone AWOL in the past eight years while receiving English training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tex., 13 have been located.

Two of them are now living as permanent residents in Canada and six are awaiting rulings on refugee claims, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Air Force's Air Education & Training Command in Universal City, Tex. The remaining four are being deported from the United States, while one has been granted a conditional resident permit.

“It would be bizarre in the extreme that they would qualify as refugees,” said retired Canadian Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, adding it is “disturbing” the individuals may have been able to settle in Canada despite being on a U.S. criminal watchlist.

“With the most liberal immigration methodology in the world, I would certainly hope they don't qualify.”

The men were all foreign military students studying English at Lackland. The idea was they would become proficient enough to take pilot or mechanic training before returning to Afghanistan, said David Smith, a spokesman for Air Education & Training Command.

“In some of the cases, the individuals have not been able to complete the English language training and rather than go home a failure, they've looked for someplace else to go.”

“If they do choose to leave, we notify the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI who will start looking for them. So once they leave the training, they're status as a student ends and they essentially become illegal aliens,” he added.

In early June, the U.S. Navy's Criminal Investigative Service issued a nationwide bulletin asking law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for the 17 deserters, who reportedly have military identification they could use to enter other military installations.

However, Mr. Smith said the students would have been issued only with passes restricting their access to Lackland base.

The U.S. Department of Defence has sponsored 745 Afghan personnel for military education since 2002, Pentagon spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told the National Post. In that time, there have been 51 “cases of concern,” with 11 individuals still under active investigation.

She added all foreign military students are vetted before receiving visas to come to the United States.

“Educating members of foreign militaries here in the United States is a well-established and proven means for building relationships that shape our national security,” Lt. Col. Robbins said.

“AWOL cases do occur, but they are a very small portion of the thousands of foreign students who receive military education here every year.”

At least three of the men who have reached Canada have settled in the Toronto area, according to a Fox News report. It also pegs the number of missing Afghan military personnel on language training in the United States to seek refuge in Canada at 22.

The Canada Border Services Agency refused to confirm or deny the entry of any person into Canada.

“It is not a practice of the CBSA to divulge enforcement, intelligence and/or investigative strategies as doing so would diminish their effectiveness,” said spokeswoman Sabrina Mehes.


Related Topics :

Elizabeth Robbins

David Smith

Border Control and Customs

Armed Forces

Afghan National Army