U.S. officials have located three Afghan National Army soldiers at the Canadian border near Niagara Falls, according to the Pentagon. The soldier had been at a Massachusetts military base taking part in a training exercise.
The three Afghan Army officers who went missing from a Cape Cod shopping mall over the weekend were among a group of 14 Afghans who were on a “cultural day” tour of the area on Saturday. They were last seen at the Cape Cod shopping mall in Hyannis, Mass., before they were found Monday. Official realized they were missing during a headcount when the group returned to Camp Edwards, the Pentagon said.
Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday before they were found that the group had been thoroughly vetted before coming to the U.S. and “there are no indications that they pose any threat to the public,” Warren said. The Afghan group arrived at Camp Edwards on Sept. 11.
The three -- Maj. Jan Mohammad Arash, and Capts. Mohammad Nasir Askarzada and Noorullah Aminyar – had been participating in Exercise Regional Cooperation 2014 on peacekeeping operations run by the U.S. Central Command and administered by the Army National Guard.
The “table top” exercise that has been conducted since 2004 was meant to "increase participating nations’ capabilities to conduct Stability Operations within internal borders and execute the range of operations conducted during United Nations-mandated peacekeeping operations," the Guard said in a press release.
While participating in the exercise, the Afghans could “come and go as they please” from the base. Occassionally, they would have military escorts while off base, but it was not immediately know whether the Afghan group was under escort at the mall.
The search for the three was mostly being conducted by local law enforcement in coordination with the FBI, Warren said. Photos of the missing officers have been sent by the military to local law enforcement.
It was not unusual for foreign troops training in the U.S. to go missing, Warren said. “These things have happened in the past,” he said.
In recent weeks, two Afghan soldiers who were in a training exercise at the Marine base in Quantico, Va., went missing and were later found in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., Warren said.
The three missing Afghans and other Afghans in the group were vetted for potential security threats under procedures called for by the so-called Leahy Amendment, named for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Warren said.
The Leahy Amendment was enacted after a spate of “insider attacks” in Afghanistan, in which members of the Afghan National Security Forces turned their weapons on U.S. and coalition troops.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org