So the five Afghan soldiers who went missing from two separate U.S. military bases are now all accounted for and apparently headed back to their home country. Feel safer now? Don't.
The Pentagon, State Department and Department of Homeland Security would like this story to be over and done. (Just like they wanted the White House "fence-jumper" story to be buried. But then we found out he didn't just jump the fence; he also overpowered a Secret Service agent, burst through the halls and invaded the East Room wielding a knife.)
Here are my nagging questions about another hushed-up national security incident the White House would prefer to whitewash:
—Why were officials so quick to tell the public that these men were not a threat to the public?
The two Afghan men who disappeared on Sept. 13 from a training program with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Quantico, Va., were Mohd Naweed Samimi, 24, and Mohammad Yasin Ataye, 22. The three men who ditched Cape Cod's Camp Edwards on Sept. 22 were Major Jan Mohammad Arash, Captain Mohammad Nasir Askarzada and Captain Noorullah Aminyar.
Both Afghan and U.S. officials rushed to assure the public that none of these men posed a security threat. The Pentagon said "they were vetted" by the State Department through its so-called "Leahy vetting process." Big deal. This so-called process has been under fire for years because of shoddy or unavailable records, as well as inconsistency across programs and agencies.
"We generally don't know who we are training. We have little reliable information," one U.S. official told RAND Corp. researchers. Their study "found significant problems with current U.S. vetting practices in relation to security assistance." That was six years ago.
In 2008, similar problems were exposed by the State Department inspector general in visa programs for thousands of Afghan and Iraqi translators and interpreters who worked for U.S. government agencies. The programs were deemed at "high risk for fraud and abuse," with almost 25 percent of those approved failing to meet the eligibility criteria.
In 2012, after Afghan trainees murdered 45 NATO troops, U.S. Special Operations forces suspended Afghan police and special forces training. Lax screening and security measures led to widespread abuse and corruption within Afghan law enforcement units, not to mention endangerment of our troops. In addition to a massive rescreening effort of 350,000 Afghan security forces, U.S. military leaders directed coalition force units to "create safe zones inside (Afghan National Security Forces) compounds where they can defend themselves if necessary."
Unfortunately, the "safe zone" initiative didn't work at Camp Bastion in September 2012, when an unprecedented attack by Taliban infiltrators left two Marines dead, 17 troops wounded and eight Harrier jets destroyed or damaged. Neither did "safe zones" stop the August 2014 slaying of U.S. Maj. Gen. Harold Greene at the hands of a Taliban infiltrator wearing an Afghan army uniform.
And no such "safe zones" have been created here at home for when Afghan trainees come to our shores and suddenly wander off.
—Where exactly were the Afghan soldiers who ditched Quantico found and with whom?
According to press reports citing unnamed federal law enforcement officials, Samimi and Ataye were "picked up in Buffalo, N.Y., without incident." Some speculated they wanted to reunite with a "relative." I'm sure the residents of Buffalo would appreciate more details.
Alarmingly, when I asked DHS/ICE public affairs officer Khaalid Walls on Tuesday what the status of the Quantico Afghan soldiers was, he told me: "I haven't heard of that."
—What steps are being taken to ensure that the Cape Cod Afghans aren't catch-and-release beneficiaries?
According to Walls, the men will be in immigration court in Batavia, N.Y., on Thursday for a hearing. When I asked whether the feds would intervene if the judge orders them released pending further removal proceedings (which can drag on for years), Walls told me he didn't know.
—Isn't it uncanny that both sets of AWOL Afghan soldiers were headed up north near the U.S.-Canada border? The Afghan trio who abandoned Camp Edwards turned up on Rainbow Bridge as they attempted to enter Canada. That's just a half-hour away from Buffalo, where the Quantico Afghans were apprehended.
Side notes: The FBI is still searching for Canadian al-Qaida terror plotter Amer el-Maati, who trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and fellow Canadian fugitive jihadist Faker Ben Abdelaziz Boussora, another al-Qaida terror suspect trained in Afghanistan. And just last week, a Taliban-trained jihadist living in Ottawa pleaded guilty to a terror plot involving 56 cellphone-triggered explosive devices smuggled into Canada from Afghanistan.
Hiva Alizadeh was arrested with beheading videos and "How To Kidnap an American" pamphlets. Past Canadian jihad plots have targeted financial districts, tourist landmarks, government buildings and power grids on both sides of the border.
Last questions: Did the Quantico and Cape Cod soldiers know one another? Have any other Afghan soldiers gone missing? When? Where? Inquiring, non-complacent minds want to know.