In the past two weeks, seven trainees from Afghanistan who were participating in a Department of Defense training program for foreign soldiers have vanished from the U.S. military bases where they were being trained.
“It’s concerning, and legitimately so,” said Georgia State University security and counterterrorism expert Robert Friedmann.
Friedmann doubts the timing is a coincidence.
The same weekend that an Afghanistan native exploded bombs in New York City and New Jersey, two trainees disappeared from Fort Benning, Ga., one from Fort Lee, Va., and one from Little Rock, Ark..
Two weeks later, one Afghan soldier left Fort Gordon, Ga.,, and two disappeared from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
“Planning, critical thinking, company commander level and challenge staff level, it’s a great experience for me,” an Iraqi soldier said in a video about the program on Fort Benning’s website.
It’s unclear why the Afghan trainees have left.
“It could be that the students get into the program not because they want to be better military professionals, but because they see it as a vehicle to come to the country and then move on to some other purposes,” Friedmann said.
While not pushing the panic button, Friedmann said “the integrity of the program clearly needs to be improved.”
The recent disappearances come after two that took place last December, when two Afghan airmen left Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. One was later found in Virginia; the other was never located.
Patrick L. Evans, commander of the U.S. Navy Defense Press Operations, defended the program, but noted it has had issues.
“It is important to note that the majority of Afghans who train in the U.S. successfully complete their training and return to their country,” Evans said. “However, there have been occasions where (the International Military Student Office has) learned of plans to go AWOL. In some of those cases, those students have been returned immediately to their country.”
A Department of Homeland Security statement said, “ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations is aware of the situation, and is actively working to locate these individuals in coordination with the State Department and the Department of Defense.”