In an announcement on Tuesday, the Pentagon is halting training of all Saudi military personnel in the United States until further notice after a Saudi Air Force lieutenant shot and killed three people last week at a base in Florida.
The decision will have far-reaching impacts on visiting Saudi personnel, including grounding more than 300 Saudi Arabian military aviation students as part of a “safety stand-down,” first reported by Reuters earlier on Tuesday.
The Pentagon later confirmed the Reuters report about aviation students. It said the move would also affect infantry personnel and all other Saudi training, other than classroom training. Such coursework, which includes English-language classes, will continue.
A senior U.S. defense official, briefing Pentagon reporters on the decision, said the move was intended to allow for a broader review of security procedures that would eventually apply to all of some 5,000 international military students in the United States.
Still, the safety shut down only applied to some 850 visiting students from Saudi Arabia. The defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the shooting “suggested that there could be a particular improvement with that (nation’s) population.”
IS SAUDI ARABIA REALLY AN ALLY?
The FBI has said U.S. investigators believe Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, acted alone when he attacked a U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, before he was fatally shot by a deputy sheriff.
The shootings have again raised questions about the U.S. military relationship with Saudi Arabia. Congress is also scrutinizing the desert country over the war in Yemen; as well as Mohammad bin Salman’s orders to kill the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year.
Navy spokeswoman Lieutenant Andriana Genualdi said the halting of training began on Monday for Saudi Arabian aviation students.
She said the grounding included three different military facilities. Those are the Naval Air Station Pensacola, the Naval Air Station Whiting Field and the Naval Air Station Mayport. They are all in Florida.
Alshamrani quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Twitter hours before the shooting spree.
The Air Force said its groundings of Saudi aviation students also applied to additional U.S. bases.
The Air Force spokeswoman said:
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.
Alshamrani was on the base as part of a U.S. Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies. He had started training in the U.S. in 2017. He had been in the Pensacola area for the past 18 months.
A group that tracks online extremism has said Alshamrani appeared to have posted criticism of U.S. wars in predominantly Muslim countries. He quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Twitter hours before the shooting spree.
The attack comes as President Donald Trump’s administration has maintained warm ties with Riyadh.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has dismissed suggestions that the shootings might make him more reluctant about new U.S. deployments to Saudi Arabia, which were announced in October and first reported by Reuters.
Esper said he had instructed the armed forces to review both security at military bases; in addition to screening for foreign soldiers who come to the United States for training.
In the wake of the shootings, the U.S. Northern Command immediately ordered all military installations to review force protection measures and to increase “random security measures.”
A Northern Command spokesman said local commanders in the United States also had the authority to “add further countermeasures as needed,” without elaborating as to which, if any, bases did so.