The Pentagon on Tuesday suspended all training of Saudi military officers training in the U.S. as it launched a wide-ranging review Tuesday evening in the wake of a deadly shooting over the weekend at a base in Pensacola, Florida that claimed the lives of three U.S. sailors.
All operational training of Saudi nationals who are in programs at U.S. military facilities will be halted immediately, and the review will limit their training to classroom-based only, said a top Pentagon official on a Tuesday evening call with reporters.
The FBI identified the shooter as 21-year-old Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force and a visiting student at the base’s Naval Aviation Schools Command.
Members of foreign militaries routinely receive instruction at U.S.-facilities, and investigators were believed to be questioning other Saudi students about possible involvement in the planning of Friday’s attack.
The review will focus on policies and policies and procedures for screening foreign students and granting access to U.S. bases. Defense Secretary David Norquist said in a statement as he directed the secretaries of the military departments to “take additional security measures as they see fit.”
The announcement comes less than one week after the Saudi Royal Air Force lieutenant shot to death three U.S. sailors at Naval Air Station Pensacola. The FBI has said the lieutenant accused the U.S. of being anti-Muslim on Twitter before the attack and the attack is being considered an “act of terrorism.”
The official insisted that the U.S. will continue its military alliance with Riyadh, considered a bulwark of U.S. efforts to contain Iran. The U.S. military has trained over 28,000 Saudi students since the start of the security cooperation “without serious incident until now,” the official said.
“The operational pause only applies to Saudi students” and will last until Mr. Esper decides otherwise, the official said. The initial review will take approximately five to ten days and will look at the current programs to analyze any “shortcomings.”
The Pentagon says it is conducting the review with full cooperation and understanding from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has an estimated 1,000 officers at U.S. military training facilities, and has received support from Saudi military officials.
Although there is “no evidence to suggest a larger ring” of Saudi students who are planning another attack, the official explained that “one incident suggested that there could be a particular improvement with that population.”
Investigators for the Dec. 6 shooting are trying to determine whether the Saudi shooter had been radicalized and whether he acted on his own or as an operative of a group.
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