Afghan war orphan at the center of international custody fight

  • The case centers around an Afghan girl adopted by a U.S. Marine
  • The child's Afghan relatives want custody returned to them
  • The Justice Department warned the case has international implications

(NewsNation) — A 4-year-old war orphan is at the center of a custody fight that has implications for national security. The U.S. government warned a judge that allowing a U.S. Marine to retain custody could be a violation of international law.

The legal battle has been ongoing for two years, pitting the child’s adopted parents, one of whom is a Marine officer, against her Afghan family.

Marine Major Joshua Mast brought home an Afghan orphan, but now stands accused of kidnapping by the U.S. government.

The case is complex and, much like the complicated withdrawal from Afghanistan, spans two presidential administrations with both the Trump and Biden administrations involved.

The U.S. government has now issued a warning to the Virginia judge that the Marine’s actions could risk violating international law and be seen as “endorsing an act of international child abduction.”

In court filings obtained by the Associated Press, the U.S. Justice Department is working to intervene in the case, warning that failing to return the 4-year-old to her Afghan relatives, who are now in the U.S., could risk American efforts to resettle Afghan refugees.

DOJ lawyers wrote a scathing assessment of how Major Joshua Mast and his wife Stephanie got a Virginia judge to sign off on the adoption of the girl, citing a litany of falsehoods and intentional misrepresentations.

“The grave harm that the Masts have inflicted upon the Child, her family, and the United States is ongoing,” court documents read. “Most troublingly, the child remains with the Masts to this day.”

The Marine convinced a local circuit court judge that the child was a stateless daughter of foreign fighters, but the DOJ says the girl was never stateless and the Afghan government did not relinquish its claim over her.

Mast was an attorney in Afghanistan and met the baby in a U.S. military hospital.

In an earlier court filing, Mast’s lawyers wrote he and his wife worked at “great personal expense and sacrifice” to protect the baby and “provide her a loving home.”

Both the Masts and the girl’s Afghan relatives are suing to get the girl back.

Military adoptions are not rare, and the military sometimes offers up orphanage visits to active service members who are serving overseas as part of their community outreach. Some of those interactions do result in adoptions.

In 2020, there were 1,622 adoptions of foreign-born children by U.S. service members. In 2021, 1,785 children were adopted from overseas and in 2022 there 1,517 such adoptions. The majority of those were female children who ranged in age from five to 12.

NewsNation reached out to the Department of Defense for comment. The DOD declined to comment on the case, citing ongoing legal proceedings.


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