Three Afghanistan National Army soldiers who went missing Saturday night from a Regional Cooperation training exercise at Camp Edwards in Sandwich have been found while trying to cross the Canadian border in Buffalo, NY, multiple sources close to the investigation confirmed to Boston.com.
The three men are senior military officers from Afghanistan and were cleared by the US State Department to participate in the exercise, according to Massachusetts National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. James Sahady. They were identified as Maj. Jan Mohammad Arash, Capt. Mohammad Nasir Askarzada and Capt. Noorullah Aminyar. They will be returned to Joint Base Cape Cod.
US Central Command, who led the investigation, notified The Massachusetts National Guard along with state and local law enforcement of the missing soldiers. However, state and local agencies were not involved in an active search, Maj. Andrew Aranda, a spokesperson for US Central Command, told Boston.com.
The three men, who speak English, were last seen Saturday while chaperoned to the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis. The Department of Defense did not officially released photos to the public of the missing soldiers. State and local officials were also not been provided with official photos, Aranda said.
Although the soldiers are considered by military standards as Absent Without Official Leave, they are legally allowed to be in the US under documentation similar to a tourist visa.
“We invited them to the country, they’re allowed to be here,’’ Aranda said.
Federal and military officials said the men are not considered a threat to the public.
Two hundred people from six nations are participating in the exercise, including 15 officers and senior enlisted personnel from Afghanistan, said Sahady. The two-week annual exercise, sponsored this year by US Central Command, is designed to strengthen relationships between the US and participating nations. The soldiers arrived at Joint Base Cape Cod on Sept. 11.
Non-US soldiers underwent a thorough security tracking and vetting process — known as “Leahy vetting’’ — before being granted approval to participate.
“Not all 200 people are locked down on base,’’ Sahady told Boston.com. At some points during their stay, participants are cleared to leave for dinner or to participate in activities off base without restrictions, he said.
A male witness who spoke to Boston.com on the condition of anonymity said he encountered one of the soldiers while visiting Craigville Beach in Centerville late afternoon on Saturday, before the men were reported missing. The witness, who was vacationing with his family, said the man identified himself as “John’’ and said he was from Afghanistan here for a military training program.
“He asked us ‘what direction is Canada — and how far of a drive would it be to get there,’’’ he said.
“He looked like he was having the time of his life,’’ the witness said.
After hearing reports that the men went missing, the witness contacted the FBI office in Boston to report his encounter.
A senior military official confirmed that the soldiers did in fact visit a local beach prior to their trip to the Cape Cod Mall.
This is not the first reported case of Afghan nationals who have gone missing while undergoing a training program in the US. Two Afghan policemen who were taking part in an intensive DEA training program in Quantico, Va., went missing while on a sightseeing trip last Thursday. They were found in Buffalo, NY, on Friday.