Federal authorities and Georgia police are searching for two male Afghan nationals who were reported missing by U.S. military officials after they failed to report for aircraft maintenance training at the Moody Air Force Base (AFB) in southern Georgia on Monday.
In a statement, officials from the Moody AFB in Valdosta, Georgia, said the two Afghan air force students “do not pose any apparent threat.”
“There is a well-coordinated process among federal agencies to locate the individuals as quickly as possible and return them accordingly to the proper authorities to manage their present situation,” added the officials.
Monday’s incident is not unprecedented. Other members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), which includes military and police units, have gone missing in the recent past while participating in U.S.-based training programs. One of them was granted asylum by the United States in January.
The reason why the two men may have left the Moody base remains unknown.
Air Force base officials said the two Afghan nationals have been training at Moody since February 2015, noting that they “were screened prior to their arrival in the United States more than a year ago.”
The two Afghans, who have been training alongside their American counterparts for most of this year, are assigned to the 81st Fighter Squadron.
Moody AFB officials noted, “The search for those missing comes almost 11 months after a special ceremony was held to officially reactivate the 81st Fighter Squadron out of Columbus Air Force Base in Columbus, Mississippi, charged with training the Afghan airmen.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that the 81st Fighter Squadron was re-activated in January.
In August 2014, the Moody base was selected as the location to train Afghan pilots and maintenance personnel who will be flying the A-29 Super Tucano fighter aircraft, reports WLAB.
WLAB adds, “The Air Force said that Moody would support 20 planes, 17 Air Force instructor pilots, and 24 maintenance and support personnel, to train a total of 30 Afghan pilots and 90 Afghan maintainers over the next four years.”
The two missing Afghan trainees — an Afghan Air Force lieutenant and senior master sergeant — are among nine pilots and 14 maintenance crew members who have been at Moody for much of the year, reports ABC News. Both missing men are from the maintenance crew.
“The Air Force said the 81st Fighter Squadron is a ‘tenant unit’ at Moody AFB, and falls under command of the 14th Operations Group and 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus AFB, Mississippi,” reports WLAB.
In September 2014, five ANDSF officers – two policemen and three soldiers – went missing while participating in separate U.S.-based training programs.
The policemen were found outside D.C. and the three service members were taken into custody at the Canadian border.
In January of this year, one of the three Afghan soldiers who went AWOL in September 2014 was granted asylum by the United States.
“More than 160,000 Afghans have left their country for Europe this year, most spurred by poor job prospects and worsening security as Taliban insurgents grow more powerful after the bulk of NATO troops withdrew at the end of 2014,” reports Reuters.