ABC News recently reported that three Afghan army officers, who had been flown into the US on September 11 to participate in an Afghan-US joint training exercise at Joint Base Cape Cod, went missing on Saturday during a field trip to the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis, MA. WCBV Channel 5 Boston just broke news that the missing Afghan soldiers were caught trying to slip over the Rainbow Bridge US/Canada border crossing near Niagara Falls, claiming to be refugees.
According to USA Today, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick speculated that the three officers, identified as Maj. Jan Mohammad Arash, Capt. Noorullah Aminy, and Capt. Mohammad Nasir Askarzada, may have gone absent without leave in an effort to defect. The joint training exercise, which includes 200 soldiers from nations like Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Mongolia, is set to end on September 24. Twelve other Afghan military personnel are currently participating in the training program at Joint Base Cape Cod, which features a mock-up of a forward operating base, similar to the ones used by the US military in Afghanistan.
When the three Afghan officers initially went missing, authorities responded by cautioning that all of the officers participating in the program were heavily vetted prior to being transported into the United States and that the missing officers did not pose a threat to the public.
This incident marks the second time this month that Afghan forces have gone missing during training exercises within the United States. Previously, two Afghan policemen, who had been brought to Quantico, VA to train with the Drug Enforcement Administration, went missing and were found in Buffalo, NY, near where the three Afghan army officers reportedly attempted to cross the border into Canada. DEA representative Rusty Payne told Buffalo News that the two Afghan police officers slipped away from Quantico due to “the lure of a better life” in the United States. In additional comments to WIBV-TV 4, Payne said, “I suspect there will be some oversight but I don’t think this represents a significant problem.”
Officials have not yet indicated why two separate groups of missing Afghan forces, disappearing from different locations within the US, both turned up near Buffalo, NY. According to WIVB-TV 4, authorities believe the two Afghan police officers, who were found last Thursday, traveled to Buffalo to visit with family.
In 2003, a group of Buffalo-area Yemeni-American residents called the “Buffalo Six” were convicted of providing material support to Al Qaeda after attending a training camp in Afghanistan in September of 2001, though no known ties have been alleged between any of the missing Afghan forces and any potential terror suspects in upstate New York.
This incident comes just as American politicians such as US Senator Rand Paul are raising questions about the potential unintended consequences that could emerge from the Obama administration’s plan to arm and train 5,000 Syrian rebels in an effort to combat ISIS in Syria.