More than half a dozen military trainees from Afghanistan have disappeared over the course of about two weeks.
They were training at U.S. bases, including Fort Gordon in Augusta and Fort Benning near Columbus.
“It’s concerning and legitimately so,” Georgia State University security and counterterrorism expert Robert Friedmann said.
Seven trainees went AWOL from bases so far this month. Friedmann says he doesn’t think the timing is a coincidence.
“It's fairly likely that it was coordinated, because that's too much of a coincidence,” he said.
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The same weekend a U.S. citizen from Afghanistan detonated a bomb in New York City, two trainees disappeared from Fort Benning, one from Fort Lee, Virginia and Little Rock, Arkansas.
Two weeks later, one walked away from Fort Gordon and two more from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
The Afghans were part of a Department of Defense training program for foreign soldiers.
"Planning, critical thinking, company commander level and challenge staff level, it's a great experience for me,” an Iraqi soldier says in a video about the program on Fort Benning’s website.
While the feds vet each student ahead of time, Friedmann told Channel 2’s Aaron Diamant the walk offs expose gaps often overlooked.
“It could be that the students get into the program not because they want to be better military professionals, but because they see it as a vehicle to come to the country and then move on to some other purposes,” he said.
Last December, two Afghan airmen disappeared from Moody Air Force Base in south Georgia. One turned up in Virginia weeks later. The other is still missing.
Friedmann says it's unclear whether the AWOL Afghans pose a specific threat but that, “the integrity of the program clearly needs to be improved."
So far the feds have not identified the seven new missing Afghans.
In a written statement a Homeland Security spokesperson told Diamant, “ICE's Homeland Security Investigations is aware of the situation, and is actively working to locate these individuals in coordination with the State Department and the Department of Defense."
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