Last month, reports surfaced that a number of Afghan soldiers studying at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas had been going AWOL. A "Be on the Lookout" bulletin was posted for 17 of them, and the base said they had left the base over the course of 18 months. Afghan soldiers on the loose in the U.S.? Fox News, of course, latched onto the story.
Fox went on to report that seven of the original AWOL Afghans had been accounted for -- then upped the number of Afghans that had gone missing over the years to 46. But Fox News' latest scoop puts quite a, um, twist on the story.
We'll let them take over here:
A loose network of Mexican-American women, some of whom may be illegal immigrants, have been responsible for helping numerous Afghan military deserters go AWOL from an Air Force Base in Texas, FoxNews.com has learned.
Many of the Afghans, with the women's assistance, have made their way to Canada; the whereabouts of others remain unknown. Some of the men have been schooled by the women in how to move around the U.S. without any documentation.
The Afghan deserters refer to the women as "BMWs" -- Big Mexican Women -- and they often are the first step in the Afghans' journey from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to Canada, a diplomatic official told FoxNews.com.
Got that? True or not, it's like a grab bag of conservative scare words: "loose," "illegal immigrants," "Big Mexican Women," "Canada." Fox goes on to report that the Afghan soldiers "usually meet" the women at three San Antonio night clubs: Tiffany's Cocktails, Mirage and Graham Central Station, where they presumably dance, drink shooters and hatch their illegal plots.
A bartender at Tiffany's refused to comment on the story to TPM, though she did say she'd seen the Fox report.
In an unsigned response to an e-mail from TPM, a representative of Graham Central Station wrote: "Graham Central Station can neither confirm nor deny the information reported on FOX News concerning Afghan soldiers deserting the Afghan Army while training at Lackland Air Force Base."
There have been no reports to any representatives of Graham Central Station concerning the issues reported by FOX News; consequently, Graham Central Station representatives have no knowledge of any such activities going on in or around Graham Central Station. We welcome everyone to come and enjoy the multi-venue nightclub experience.
Meanwhile, Fox News' anonymous sources say the Mexican women -- who "may be illegal immigrants" -- are "like groupies" for the Afghans.
If an Afghan needs a ride, they'll pick him up. If they're needed to run errands -- or to take them away from the base in the middle of the night -- they will be there at a moment's notice, the sources said.
But the real key to the relationship between these soldiers and the women, according to Fox, is that the women are apparently well acquainted with living in the U.S. illegally.
The official said most of the students were too afraid of life on the run to ever consider going AWOL -- until they met the women, who assured them that many people live illegally in the U.S. and in Canada without getting caught or deported.
"They hear stories from them about people who do it ... some of their family came here illegally, some of them I think are not legal themselves," said the official.
"They say, 'See, it's OK. I am fine. I will help. No problem.' And the students listen and then they go."
Officials tell Fox that the AWOL Afghans are considered to be in violation of immigration laws -- but aren't security threats, and that Institute students not from Afghanistan have also gone missing in recent years.
U.S. Immigration And Customs Enforcement referred all TPM's questions to the Department of Defense, who subsequently told TPM the content of the Fox News report was not a DoD concern.
The Department of Defense did say -- without really confirming or denying the Fox news report -- that missing soldiers are only a small part of a larger program it considers successful.
"The Department of Defense treats all such incidents very seriously, and we work closely with appropriate federal agencies to respond to each event," DoD spokesperson Mark Wright told TPM in an email. "I would also note that while the incidents of Afghan students going AWOL (absent without leave) are a matter of concern, there are thousands of other international students who successfully attend training each year without incident."
Calls to Lackland Air Force Base were not immediately returned.