Cartoon by Rob Rogers
Pentagon suspends military training of Saudi students after Pensacola shooting
The Guardian: The Pentagon announced on Tuesday it was halting operational training of all Saudi Arabian military personnel in the United States until further notice in the wake of the deadly shooting by a Saudi air force officer.
The decision will have far-reaching impacts, including grounding more than 300 Saudi Arabian military aviation students.
The Pentagon has also ordered a broad review of vetting procedures for international students who participate in training on US military installations and demanded the process be strengthened.
The memo signed by the deputy defense secretary, David Norquist, said the review of the vetting must be completed in 10 days, and the flight restrictions will continue throughout the review and until they are lifted by senior leaders.
There are about 850 Saudi students currently in US military training programs, according to the Pentagon. US officials said they aren’t sure how many of those would see some type of flight or other restriction, but many will.
The FBI has said US investigators believe the Saudi air force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, acted alone when he attacked a US navy base in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, before he was fatally shot by a deputy sheriff.
The shootings have again raised questions about the US military relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has come under heightened scrutiny over the war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s killing of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year.
Still, US military leaders have sought to portray this as a localized issue which would not affect the overall US-Saudi relationship.
The US navy spokeswoman Lieutenant Andriana Genualdi said the safety standdown and operational pause began on Monday for Saudi Arabian aviation students.
She said the grounding included three different military facilities: Naval Air Station Pensacola, Naval Air Station Whiting Field and Naval Air Station Mayport, all in Florida. The US air force said its groundings of Saudi aviation students also applied to additional US bases.
“Given the traumatic events, we feel it is best to keep the Royal Saudi Air Force students off the flying schedule for a short time,” the air force spokeswoman said.
The US defense secretary, Mark Esper, has dismissed suggestions that the shootings might make him more reluctant about new US deployments to Saudi Arabia, which were announced in October and first reported by Reuters.
“Saudi Arabia is a longstanding partner of ours in the region. We share mutual security interests,” Esper said over the weekend.
Esper said he had instructed the armed forces to review both security at military bases and screening for foreign soldiers who come to the United States for training after the shooting.