Pompeo Defends Training Saudis at US Military Bases but Advocates Vetting

May 29, 2020 Updated: May 29, 2020

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended training for foreign military students in operating U.S.-made weapons conducted at U.S. military bases.

Pompeo told Laura Ingram of Fox News on May 28 when answering a question about the terrorist attack conducted by a Saudi trainee at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, that training programs for the foreign students exist because “we do conduct important training programs so that young American kids don’t have to fly all the airplanes all across the world to keep America safe.“

“We want to sell American armaments; we want to train foreign military actors to operate that equipment so that we don’t have to put young American lives at risk,” he added.

The shooter, Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, killed three American sailors and wounded eight people before being killed by law enforcement during the attack. He was on the base as part of a U.S. Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies.

The FBI concluded upon an investigation that Alshamrani “was a member of al-Qaida,” but it was not identified in a timely fashion, Pompeo said.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press at the State Department in Washington, on May 20, 2020. (Nicolas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

“The United States takes seriously anytime we have anyone coming in to train alongside our soldiers here in the United States from whatever country they’re coming in from.  We have a responsibility to do our best to vet them,” Pompeo told Fox News.

However the shooter was able to enter the training and “caused enormous harm and pain to the United States,” Pompeo said. “The Department of Defense is reviewing that process, trying to make sure we get it right,” he continued.

The training programs should be conducted in a way that it will not pose any risk to American lives, he added.

Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) on May 18 “called for a hard reset of the program and for all Saudi nationals training in the U.S. to be sent home until the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) completed a thorough review of the program,” a statement said.

“This terrorist should never have been allowed in our country, let alone on an American military base with easy access to American military men and women,” Scott said in the statement.

“Senators Rick Scott and Joni Ernst [(R.-Iowa)] introduced the Secure U.S. Bases Act, which requires a thorough vetting process before a foreign student enters the U.S.; creates a special, limited visa for foreign students; and establishes a review process so that DOD is not operating training programs in the U.S. that would be better operated abroad,” said the statement.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington said in a statement, after the FBI cracked Alshamrani’s iPhone encryption, that it welcomed the recovery of intelligence from his phone and it was continuing to provide full support to the investigation.

Saudi Arabia in January withdrew its remaining 21 cadets from the U.S. military training program and brought them home, after the Justice Department’s investigation revealed some had accessed child pornography or had social media accounts containing Islamic extremist or anti-American content.

Reuters contributed to this report.