Afghan trainees who were participating in the Pentagon’s “International Military Education and Training” program on U.S. military bases have gone AWOL, and the U.S. military is now scrambling to locate them.
“During the month of September, seven Afghan students were considered absent without leave (AWOL) during international military student programs,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Patrick L. Evans said.
Coincidentally, three of the Afghan trainees disappeared at the same time as the bombing attacks in New York and New Jersey by Afghan-born suspect Ahmad Rahami, which has increased concerns that they may be linked to plans for new attacks in the U.S.
An Army official says it appears to be a coordinated effort, and the three men are being investigated for any possible connection to Rahami. Two of the missing Afghans were training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and one was at fort Gordon, Georgia.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has also been notified and is “actively working to locate them,” said Sarah Rodriguez, an ICE spokeswoman.
Additionally, four more Afghan military trainees disappeared over Labor Day weekend – two from Fort Benning, Georgia, one from Fort Lee, Virginia, and another from Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Pentagon admits that this does happen on occasion – in fact they say it’s not unusual – yet the international “cooperation” training has continued.
The Free Beacon reports that in December, two maintenance airmen from the Afghan Air Force disappeared from the Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. One was later located in Virginia, but there is no mention of the other ever having been found.
Retired Army officer Joe Myers, who was posted in Kabul, Afghanistan, said the U.S. military frequently trains foreign military students as part of a security assistance and international training and education program.
“It is not unusual at times for some foreign students to use the opportunity to not return to their country of origin,” Myers said.
“In the case of Afghanistan it is more sensitive for homeland security when their students disappear, especially in light of actual graduates of programs such as the new ISIS military commander, Gulmurod Khalimov, who attended and completed several State Department sponsored counterterrorism programs,” Myers said.
Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Patrick L. Evans defended the program, saying it is important to note that the “majority of Afghans” who train in the U.S. do successfully complete their training and return to their country.
The program is supposed to “train future leaders, foster a better understanding of the United States, and establish closer ties between the U.S. and Afghan militaries,” according to the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency website.
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