U.S. Air Force
FILE: Air traffic controllers from the 37th Operations Support Squadron prepare to navigate F-16 Falcons down the runway on Lackland Air Force Base.
A nationwide alert has been issued for 17 members of the Afghan military who have gone AWOL from an Air Force base in Texas where foreign military officers who are training to become pilots are taught English, FoxNews.com has learned.
The Afghan officers and enlisted men have security badges that give them access to secure U.S. defense installations, according to the lookout bulletin, “Afghan Military Deserters in CONUS [Continental U.S.],” issued by Naval Criminal Investigative Service in Dallas, and obtained by FoxNews.com.
The Afghans were attending the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The DLI program teaches English to military pilot candidates and other air force prospects from foreign countries allied with the U.S.
“I can confirm that 17 have gone missing from the Defense Language Institute,” said Gary Emery, Chief of Public Affairs, 37th Training Wing, at Lackland AFB. “They disappeared over the course of the last two years, and none in the last three months.”
Each Afghan was issued a Department of Defense Common Access Card, an identification card used to gain access to secure military installations, with which they “could attempt to enter DOD installations,” according to the bulletin. Base security officers were encouraged to disseminate the bulletin to their personnel.
“The visas issued to these personnel have been revoked, or are in the process of being revoked. Lookouts have been placed in TECS,” it reads.
Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS), which is shared by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, is a computer-based database used to identify people suspected of violating federal law.
Included in the bulletin are photos of the 17 men, accompanied by their dates of birth and their TECS Lookout numbers.
The bulletin requests, “If any Afghan pictured herein is encountered, detain the subject and contact your local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, the FBI or NCIS.”
A senior law enforcement official said Friday that the Afghans’ disappearance was more of an immigration violation than a security threat, saying there are no “strong indications to any terrorism nexus or impending threat.”
The official further said that an unspecified number of the 17 have been caught. “A number of these guys have already been located or accounted for by now,” the official said. “Some are in removal proceedings to be deported already. (Authorities) still need to locate the others, and that is why the bulletin went out.”
The official said the information is “kind of old” — up to two years — but added, “It is important in the sense that some people look to come to the U.S. and will take advantage of invitations to train or attend a conference or to study, etc. But their real intention is to get to the U.S. and start a new life. It is not completely rare for this to happen….
“Although we are vigilant and need to work toward not allowing this to happen,” the official said, this alert should “not necessarily” be described as “a national security threat, more of a ‘hey these guys violated our laws and we need to find them.'”
spokesman referred FoxNews.com to the FBI.