Saudi military students resume US flight training

Mark Esper, Mark Milley

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, right, speaks at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Military students from Saudi Arabia have resumed flight training at U.S. bases, nearly three months after a Saudi trainee shot and killed three U.S. Navy sailors at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.

The U.S. Navy said in a statement that flight training for the Saudi students resumed Tuesday. The training for about 850 Saudis at multiple U.S. bases was suspended December 10, four days after the deadly shooting.

Operational training, such as flying and other non-classroom instruction, was allowed to restart once additional safety restrictions were put in place.

The Navy said new policies prohibit the possession of personally owned firearms by international students and limit foreign nationals to their assigned bases and facilities. International students must agree to the new policies in order to participate in U.S. training.

“The Navy is making every effort to minimize disruptions to our foreign national partners while implementing the revised security initiatives,” the Navy statement said.

In addition, a new continuous review process is also being implemented by March 13. That new monitoring, which was ordered by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, is intended to allow U.S. officials to pick up on signs of radicalization or other problematic behavior that might not have been apparent when the student entered the training program.

The shooting at Pensacola, in which Saudi Air Force officer Mohammed Alshamrani killed three U.S. sailors and injured eight other people, focused public attention on the presence of foreign students in American military training programs and exposed shortcomings in the screening of cadets.

Early last month, the Justice Department announced that 21 Saudi military students were sent home after a review of all Saudi trainees. The 21, including an undisclosed number at Pensacola, had posted jihadist or anti-American sentiments on social media pages or had “contact with child pornography,” including in internet chat rooms, officials said. None is accused of having had advance knowledge of the Dec. 6 shooting or having helped the gunman carry it out.

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