(Cape Cod Times) – When the military first went looking for three Afghan soldiers who were missing Saturday night, they called a Mashpee strip club.
Richard Halpern, owner of Zachary’s Pub, said a military official called to see if the men were there, knowing they had visited the previous night.
“I guess it’s a magnet,” Halpern said with a laugh. “You come here once, you have to come again.”
But the men weren’t in Mashpee; they were on their way to Canada to seek asylum.
On Monday, the three Afghan soldiers — Maj. Jan Mohammed Arash, Capt. Mohammad Nasir Askarzada and Capt. Noorullah Aminyar — were stopped at the U.S.-Canada border in Niagara Falls. Tuesday morning, they were transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Daniel Modicker, a spokesman for the agency’s Massachusetts office, said. The officers face removal proceedings after being charged with administrative immigration violations, Modicker said.
The Afghan soldiers were part of a cooperative training exercise organized and facilitated by U.S. Central Command. Six nations and more than 200 people are part of the weeklong event at Camp Edwards. It wraps up today at the base.
Participants in the exercise received $37 per diem from the United States government, Maj. Andrew Arando, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said Tuesday. Each participant in the cooperative training exercise, including the three men, was given the money “to introduce them to cultural aspects of American life.”
The U.S. per diems were based on a 10-day stay for a total of $370. The Afghan soldiers arrived on Sept. 11 and were scheduled to leave Wednesday, Arando said. They would also have been given money for a day of travel before and after, he said.
“We would want to make sure they have money for meals on the plane or wherever they stop on their way home,” Arando said.
The money came from the Department of Defense and would have been issued to the participants by their embassies before the trip, Arando said.
Each of the participants also likely had money from their own governments, Arando said, though he did not know how much.
It appears the men used some of their cash to visit Zachary’s.
Halpern said he started receiving calls from employees Monday morning — first a door girl, then dancers and a DJ — all telling him the men had been in the club Friday night. The men visited with a contingent of seven to eight people, including one U.S. citizen, paid the $11 cover charge and enjoyed the show, he said.
“Nothing happened, they were well behaved,” Halpern said.
On Saturday, the soldiers ditched their chaperone at Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis and were gone for more than 36 hours before being detained at the border in Niagara Falls on Monday morning. Authorities have not said how they made it from the Cape to Niagara Falls.
The disappearance of the three men became widely known late Sunday when the Times reported local police departments had been alerted.
Fueling the public interest was a hastily-made poster shared on social networks that screamed, “Security alert!!!! Be on the lookout.” At the bottom, it stated: “Missing and unaccounted for” and “!!!Base unsure of whereabouts!!!”
The poster included photos of the men and copies of their documentation. It also referred to them last being seen at “Otis Air Force Base, Hyannis, 09/20/14.”
Military officials have yet to identify the source of that poster. The photos, however, were distributed by the 102nd Intelligence Wing Security Forces Squadron, Col. James Sahady, a spokesman for the Massachusetts National Guard, said Tuesday.
“They did not create that poster,” Sahady said.
The 102nd shared the photos with police, he said, though three local police chiefs in towns surrounding the base told the Times Monday they never received photos from base officials and had scant information to help find the men.
By George Brennan