No Plans to Change Foreign Military Training After Pensacola Shooting, Top Generals Say

Police vehicles block the entrance to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, on Dec. 6, 2019. (Tony Giberson/Pensacola News Journal via AP)
Police vehicles block the entrance to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, on Dec. 6, 2019. (Tony Giberson/Pensacola News Journal via AP)

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- The top brass of the military service branches say they're not hesitant to send U.S. troops to the Saudi Arabia or reluctant to train alongside Saudi troops in the wake of Friday's shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, committed by a Saudi national pilot in training.

"All of us have forces in other countries and [foreign forces] are in ours," said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger. "[Do I] have reservations about sending Marines or service members to other countries [like] Saudi Arabia? No, not at all," Berger said Saturday during a panel at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum here.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David Goldfein, Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville were also on the panel.

Gilday said the ongoing investigations into the incident, which left three people dead, will inform decisions on how the Navy and other service should proceed regarding security.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Friday the service would review security procedures to prevent future attacks, which also included a separate shooting Wednesday at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

Related: Navy, Pentagon to Review Base Security Following 3 Deadly Incidents in a Week

"We are approaching those investigations very, very carefully," Gilday said, adding it was "too soon" to draw any conclusions on whether the NAS Pensacola incident resulted from a lapse in proper screening of foreign nationals training alongside U.S. service members.

Following the shooting, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters that current vetting processes for partner students training in the U.S. may need to be reexamined.

The Pentagon has a variety of training events and programs with foreign partners, which its looking to expand.

Ending those would have an adverse effect on joint training down the line, added Goldfein.

"The biggest impact would be on our allies and partners and interoperability," Goldfein said. "My biggest concern that we would walk away from those key relationships and folks that we know we need when we go into combat."

The Associated Press reported Saturday that the Saudi student, identified as Mohammed al-Shamrani, hosted a dinner party earlier in the week to watch videos of mass shootings.

One of the students who attended the dinner had videotaped the outside of the training building where the shooting was taking place, the AP said, quoting a top U.S. official.

Two other students watched from a nearby car.

Since World War II, Pensacola has served as a flight training base for service members from allies and partner nations.

The Navy could not immediately provide figures regarding how many foreign nationals are currently training at the base.

"There's obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi Air Force and then to be here training on our soil," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a base news conference Friday. "Obviously, the government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims."

President Donald Trump had tweeted that Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz al-Saud had called to express his condolences and give assurances that the shooter did not represent the Saudi people.

"The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people," Trump said.

--Richard Sisk contributed to this report.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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