There were “few repercussions” for felonies and misdemeanors committed by Afghan evacuees at Fort Pickett in Virginia, examples of which include stealing a vehicle, physical abuse, and making weapons, according to a new report.
The report, from the Inspector General, details various challenges faced at Fort Pickett which housed Afghan refugees during the mass evacuation of people from Afghanistan during the U.S. withdrawal from the country.
Investigators note that there were many security issues during the initial housing process at the fort with a large influx of evacuees arriving, and that oftentimes, due to limited resources and jurisdictional issues, officials at the fort “had challenges with holding Afghan evacuees accountable for misdemeanors.”
Another security issue entailed the fact that the fort had trouble “controlling unauthorized access to the joint operations area, where Afghan evacuees were located.”
“TF Pickett security personnel stated that there had been several reported instances of theft, physical abuse of Afghan women and children, and other crimes by Afghan evacuees,” the report stated. “TF Pickett security personnel stated the TF Pickett military police had limited law enforcement authority over Afghan evacuees in the joint operations area.”
When crimes were reported at the fort, security personnel needed the Blackstone Police Department and Virginia State Police in Nottoway County to investigate and make arrests for crimes.
However, because of the other responsibilities of the police in Blackstone, Virginia, “misdemeanors went unaddressed as local law enforcement did not have the capacity to handle them.”
Unlike the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Pickett did not have access to additional law enforcement resources, such as the Provost Marshal’s Office, the FBI, or other officers with the Department of Justice. Military police also did not have a presence at the fort.
Officials at Fort Pickett told investigators that they would often not note the fact that an evacuee had committed theft or another misdemeanor to their Department of State profile, which led to concerns about resettlement.
“As a result, TF Pickett security personnel stated that they were concerned with the fact that families who chose to sponsor Afghan evacuees and their families would not have a full profile detailing incidents allegedly committed during an evacuee’s time at Fort Pickett,” investigators noted.
To address reported crimes, investigators recommended that officials at the fort establish a Misconduct Review Board similar to the one at Fort Bliss “to ensure misdemeanors committed by Afghan evacuees are appropriately handled and documented.”
Investigators also found that a lower magistrate in Virginia lowered crimes by Afghan refugees such as “physical abuse” and “stealing a vehicle” to misdemeanor status. The alleged perpetrators were able to return to the fort. Other crimes included possession of homemade weapons (from pipes) and stealing knives.
Fort security said that there was “no mechanism to deter repeat offenders” and that led to “was no reason for Afghan evacuees to stop committing these infractions.”
By October 12, agents from the Department of Homeland Security and the Air Marshals had arrived to assist with the fort’s security concerns. The arrival of more agents helped to “deter crime” according to the report.
The audit of the fort took place from September 24 to September 27. Fort Pickett was expected to house at least 5,000 Afghan evacuees.