ATLANTA — Two Afghan men who were training with the U.S. military are missing from a base in south Georgia, but officials say that they were screened before entering the country and that there’s no indication they pose a threat.
“There’s zero evidence that these guys are terrorists,” said Brian Childress, police chief in Valdosta, which is near Moody Air Force Base.
The men didn’t report Monday to maintenance training with the 81st Fighter Squadron, base officials said in a statement Tuesday night.
Federal, local and state agencies are working with the military to find the men, Childress said Wednesday.Moody officials informed him Tuesday morning the men were missing, he said. The men’s names have not been released.
Both men were being trained in aircraft maintenance and were scheduled to graduate from the program Dec. 18, said Lt. Col. Chris Karns, an Air Force spokesman. After graduation, they were to return to Afghanistan to begin working with A-29 Super Tucano airplanes in their home country, Karns said.
The last contact the base had with the men was on Friday, Karns said. Trainees are allowed to go off base on the weekends, and they failed to report back to the program Monday, he said.
The military has no reason to believe they present a threat to anyone, said Karns. They were screened by both the U.S. and the government of Afghanistan before their arrival in the United States more than a year ago, he said. Karns added that he has no reason to believe they’re armed and there are no reports of missing weapons.
The two had been at Moody since February 2015 as part of the training program aimed at improving the Afghanistan air force, according to the base’s statement.
The program’s goal is to train a total of 30 Afghan pilots and 90 Afghan maintenance personnel during a four-year period, Moody Air Force Base said in an August 2014 release when the program was announced. It was not clear how many trainees from Afghanistan are currently at the base.
Conducting such training at a U.S. base instead of Afghanistan is safer, Karns said.
Base officials met with local law enforcement several months ago to plan for the possibility that some of the Afghanistan trainees could go absent without leave, Childress said.
“Anytime you bring in foreign military to our country, you have to prepare for that kind of thing,” Childress said.
He said that on Tuesday, he began hearing from Valdosta residents concerned about the missing men “in light of what’s happened out in San Bernardino,” but he called this “a totally different circumstance.”
“You’ve got to remember these folks were cleared by the U.S. military and by the Department of Defense to come in and train,” Childress said. “These guys have been here since February of 2015, and they have not caused a problem at all.”