Pentagon Orders Operational Pause in Training of Saudi Military Students after Pensacola Shooting

A general view of the Pensacola Naval Air Station main gate following a shooting on December 6, 2019 in Pensacola, Florida. (Josh Brasted/Getty Images/AFP)
Josh Brasted/Getty Images/AFP

The Pentagon on Tuesday ordered an operational pause in training Saudi military students at its bases, following a deadly shooting at a U.S. naval station in Pensacola, Florida, where a Saudi aviation student opened fire, killing three service members and wounding more.

According to senior defense officials, the operational pause is being ordered while the Pentagon reviews its existing security procedures for international military students training at military bases in the U.S., and makes sure those procedures are aligned with those for U.S. military personnel.

The pause will mean that all 852 Saudi military students who are training in the U.S. will stop any operational training, but will be allowed to continue with classroom training.

This means any aviation students would be grounded. However, not all of those 852 students are aviation students, according to officials. The specific number of aviation students was not clear. Operational training for students will pause anyway due to the upcoming holidays, officials added.

The review is expected to be completed within ten days and to look at policies and procedures for screening foreign students and granting access to bases.

In addition, the Pentagon will take “immediate steps to strengthen personnel vetting” for international military students.

Officials said training international military students remains a “critical” part of the Pentagon’s top priorities of working with partners and allies. They said that so far, more than 28,000 Saudi military students have been trained inside the U.S. without incident.

A senior defense official said that Saudi Arabia will “remain an essential partner,” and the pause has the full cooperation and understanding of the Saudis.

The shooting by Saudi aviation student Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani was particularly shocking, as it happened on a U.S. military base, and he was a vetted international military student.

The attack occurred Friday, when Alshamrani opened fire inside a classroom at the naval station and killed three people. Officials detained six Saudi nationals after the incident occurred, three of whom reportedly filmed the attack as it was happening.

The shooting ended when a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed Alshamrani.


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