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Search Continues in US for Missing Afghan Trainees

FILE - A mock F-16 fighter jet is silhouetted against the sky at sunrise at Moody Air Force Base at Valdosta, Ga., where two Afghan students who were receiving training went missing this week, Dec. 11, 2015.

The U.S. government is still searching for two Afghan aircraft maintenance students who went missing this week while receiving training at a U.S. Air Force base in Georgia, and it will revoke the men's visas, officials said Friday.

The two men, who failed to report for duty Monday to Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, are still considered to pose no threat to public safety, said Air Force spokeswoman Major Melissa Milner.

Their disappearance came at a time of heightened vigilance against possible attacks in the United States, after a married couple who the FBI said were inspired by Islamic extremists opened fire at a county office center in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, killing 14 people.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, is the lead investigative agency looking for the two Afghan trainees, said Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman.

The U.S. State Department is poised to revoke the two men's visas, he said.

"The process that's happening here is the standard process for anybody that is not compliant with the terms of their visa," Cox said.

The students, who were screened by the U.S. and Afghan governments before coming to the United States, were assigned to the 81st Fighter Squadron, Milner said. They began their training in the spring and were scheduled to graduate next week, she said.

It was not known why they left the base. U.S. officials declined to release their names.

More than 160,000 Afghans have left their country for Europe this year, most spurred by poor job prospects and worsening security. Taliban insurgents have grown more powerful since the bulk of NATO troops withdrew at the end of 2014.

In January, a soldier in the Afghanistan army who went missing during a training exercise at a U.S. military base in Massachusetts was granted asylum by the United States.

The soldier was one of three Afghans who turned themselves in at a Canadian border crossing in New York state in 2014 after disappearing from an exercise, provoking a search by military officials and state police.