Former Afghan soldier who fled U.S. training granted asylum: lawyer

BOSTON (Reuters) - A soldier in the Afghanistan army who went missing during a training exercise at a U.S. military base in Massachusetts last year has been granted asylum by the United States, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Major Jan Mohammad Arash was one of three Afghan soldiers who turned themselves in at a Canadian border crossing in New York state in September after disappearing from an exercise at Joint Base Cape Cod, provoking a search by military officials and state police.

“The board of immigration has ruled that he gets asylum,” said Matthew Borowski, who represented Arash in his request for asylum and subsequent appeal. “He’s overjoyed. He was almost in disbelief.”

An appeals board found that Arash’s apparent pro-Western beliefs would have put him in danger of attack by Taliban militants had he returned to his native Afghanistan, Borowski said.

“The board of immigration disagreed with the immigration judge and held that the Taliban is a de facto government in Afghanistan and that they exert power over large portions of the country,” said Borowski, of Buffalo, New York.

“The danger that my client faces is not merely because he is a military officer but because he has an imputed position of being pro-Western because he attended training in the United States.”

A spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

Arash, 49, remains in immigration custody in Batavia, New York, while officials conduct final background checks, Borowski said. After he is released, he plans to settle in the United States with his wife and children, Borowski said.

A second Afghan soldier, Captain Noorullah Aminyar, is awaiting the results of an appeal, making an argument similar to Arash’s, said Borowski, who represents both men.

A third Afghan soldier, Captain Mohammad Nasir Askarzada, was allowed to enter Canada and is awaiting a decision on his asylum application there, said his attorney, Razmeen Joya. Askarzada is staying with family in Toronto while waiting for a hearing, expected to be held in July, Joya said.

The three, who were part of a group of 200 soldiers from six countries participating in the training exercise, failed to return from a trip to a nearby mall. They broke no laws by leaving the training, U.S. military officials said at the time.

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney