Iraqi officers go missing in US
* Official says many run-away trainees have sought asylum in US
WASHINGTON: Numerous Iraqi military and law-enforcement officials brought to the US as part of special intelligence and training programmes have run away and are seeking asylum in this country or disappeared altogether, The Washington Times has learned.
Intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say nearly a dozen Iraqis fled military training facilities in the US, including a brigadier general who went to Canada with his family earlier this year.
Army officials yesterday confirmed that five Iraqi military personnel whom the Army had been training disappeared between 2005 and 2007. They did not know how many other Iraqis sponsored by the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy may have done the same.
“Nothing that this command is aware of would suggest that any of those students who departed from their training or returned back to Iraq pose any threat to the United States,” said Harvey Perritt, civilian spokesman for US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), which oversees all the schools the Army has in the continental US “We don’t know the reasons why they elected not to return to Iraq,” he said.
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, says the national security implications are serious and the Bush administration must do more to ensure that those brought to the US are properly accounted for. “The trainees are given access to highly sensitive information intended to help in the stabilisation of Iraq. Proper screening for entry into the programmes and strict controls during the training are necessary to protect both our national security and our soldiers overseas,” said Smith, who first inquired about missing trainees last year.
Smith has yet to receive definitive answers to questions he sent to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in December 2006. He asked who the Iraqi military and law-enforcement officials are, whether an investigation was being conducted and how many Iraqi nationals have fled from military installations in the US, according to documents obtained by The Times.
Asylum seekers: “It is my understanding that officials at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) have received a significant number of asylum requests from Iraqi trainees brought here by the Department of Defence,” Smith said in the letter. “The Iraqi nationals seek asylum on the grounds that they would be targeted by insurgents if they return to their home country. I also understand that, in some cases, the Iraqi nationals actually abandon their training in order to seek asylum.”
Perritt said all the Iraqis who come to the US are vetted by the multinational forces in Iraq, and that TRADOC also trains personnel from other government agencies, such as the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency, Treasury and Homeland Security departments.
He said two Iraqi officers fled in the middle of their training from Fort Huachuca, Ariz., the nation’s largest intelligence training facility. One officer disappeared from Fort Benning, Ga, where he was participating in combat arms training. Another Iraqi officer who was studying medical training left Fort Sam Houston and the last two Iraqi officers fled the Army’s defence language training school at Lackland Air Force Base - both those bases are in San Antonio.
CIS officials said that they could not give detailed reasons as to who applied for asylum because it could pose a danger to the applicant. “The reason we don’t break things down into specific details is because we are concerned about the safety of all parties involved in the asylum process - both the applicant here in the US and the families in their home country,” said Chris Bentley, CIS spokesman. Besides Mr. Perritt’s response, calls to Homeland Security, Defence and the State Department did not produce definitive answers to the tracking of the trainees. Homeland Security said the Defence and State departments “would be more appropriate respondents for information regarding the tracking of entries under this programmes.”
Defence officials said the Iraqis’ backgrounds are checked by the State Department before they are accepted into the programmes. State Department officials had no comment.
The training of Iraqi military personnel is determined by Central Command and under the Security Assistance Programmes with the Department of Defence, Perritt said.
In 2005, CIS said 232 Iraqi nationals applied for asylum in the US, while 310 applied in 2006. In 2005, the agency completed 229 Iraqi asylum cases and approved 120, while the rest were “denied, referred to the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review, or administratively closed.” In 2005, the Office of Immigration Statistics said 607 Iraqi diplomats and other government workers received class A visas, or similar, to come to the US - the same visas issued to Iraqi military officials. In 2006, 585 diplomatic visas were issued.
In March, The Times revealed that an Iraqi air force colonel disappeared from an Air Force base in Alabama with his family and was being sought by federal and military agents. The colonel was studying at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base as part of the Defense programmes to rebuild the Iraqi air force.
The Air Force, FBI and US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) agents started in March to search throughout the Southeast for the colonel and his family. He was thought to be hiding in the US or Mexico. courtesy the washington times