Tuesday, October 04, 2016

TOP STORY >> AWOL Afghan sought

Leader senior staff writer

Of the seven Afghan soldiers considered absent without leave from international military training at U.S. bases, one is missing from Little Rock Air Force Base, according to Thomas Byrd of the New Orleans ICE office.

“We are aware somebody is missing from the base,” he said. ICE Homeland Security is working to locate him with help from the State Department and the Defense Department, he said.

Other than that, several officials contacted issued only press releases.

Spokesmen at LRAFB referred questions to ICE in New Orleans. No one was willing to speculate whether or not this was a coordinated disappearance or whether or not it constituted a threat to national security.

ICE’s Homeland Security investigations unit said it was “aware of the situation and were actively working to locate these individuals in coordination with the State Department and the Department of Defense,” according to an email from Patrick L. Evans, commander of U.S. Navy Defense press operations. “Specific details regarding these activities are not available due to the ongoing investigation.”

The students, who come from Afghanistan, Turkey, Germany and other allies, are put through a strenuous screening process, said a person familiar with the program. “They are recommended by their leadership. We bring them over for training programs that might last a month to a year and are not involved in classified matters. They generally live in an international barracks at an installation,” the source said.

Four students were discovered missing over Labor Day weekend — two from Fort Benning, Ga., one from Fort Lee, Va., and the one from LRAFB.

Another three disappeared following the weekend of Sept. 18-19 — two from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and one from Fort Gordon, Ga.

“If an international military student is officially determined absent without leave (AWOL), the International Military Student Office notifies the Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement (DHS/ICE), the appropriate military department training manager and country program manager, the Combatant Command and Programs Directorate.

Most Afghans who train in the U.S. successfully complete their training and return to their country. There have been occasions when the International Military Student Office learned of plans to go AWOL. In some of those cases, those students have been returned immediately to their country, a spokesman said.

“When an international military student is absent from scheduled activities for more than 24 hours without proper authorization, the IMS will be considered in a UA/AWOL status. The IMSO will carefully check student accountability records before making a determination of UA to ensure that the IMS is not absent because of misunderstanding the schedule, sick in quarters/local hospital or for other plausible reasons,” the spokesman said.