Pentagon to soon resume Saudi training halted after base shooting

The US military grounded Saudi pilots and restricted some 850 military students to classroom training.

William Barr
US Attorney General William Barr and FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich announcing the findings of the criminal investigation into the shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida [Tom Brenner/Reuters]

US training for more than 800 Saudi Arabian military students could be restarted “in the coming days,” the Pentagon said Thursday, nearly six weeks after a shooting by one Saudi trainee killed three sailors at a Florida base.

The Pentagon had stopped all flight and field training for the approximately 850 Saudi students amid fears that others may have known about or been involved in the shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Classroom training has continued.

Jonathan Hoffman, chief spokesman for the Defense Department, said officials probably will have an announcement soon about the training resumption.

“We’re looking forward to turning it back on in the coming days,” he told reporters during a briefing. He added that the department also will announce additional screening procedures for international students as well and increased security measures at American bases.

Next week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper is due to visit the base where the shooting took place and will brief base leadership on planned improvements in the vetting of foreign military personnel and changes to security procedures, including physical security at US bases, the Pentagon said.

Florida shooting
Members of the US Air Force carrying the remains of Navy Ensign Joshua Watson who was killed in the December 6, 2019 shooting in the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida [Cliff Owen/ AP Photo]

US Attorney General William Barr on Monday called the shooting an act of terrorism and announced Saudi Arabia’s withdrawal of 21 cadets after an investigation showed they either had child pornography or social media accounts containing “jihadist” or anti-American sentiment.

None are accused of having had advance knowledge of the shooting or helped the 21-year-old gunman carry it out.

On December 6, Saudi Air Force officer Mohammed Alshamrani killed three US sailors and injured eight other people.

The shooting focused public attention on the presence of foreign students in American military training programs and exposed shortcomings in the screening of cadets.

It further complicated US-Saudi relations at a time of heightened tensions between the US and Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.

The attack also threw a spotlight on the extensive US military relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is under scrutiny in the US Congress over the war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Source: News Agencies