Intel: How Florida base shooting could threaten US-Saudi training programs

al-monitor The main gate at Naval Air Station Pensacola is seen on Navy Boulevard in Pensacola, Fla., US, March 16, 2016.  Photo by U.S. Navy/Patrick Nichols/Handout via REUTERS.
Bryant Harris

Bryant Harris


Topics covered

training, riyadh, jamal khashoggi, naval base, florida, donald trump

Dec 9, 2019

President Donald Trump’s outraged allies in Congress are calling on the United States to reevaluate its training programs for Riyadh after a Saudi national killed three and wounded eight others in a shooting at a Florida naval base Dec. 6. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani — a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force – was in the United States for training as part of the US Air Force Foreign Military Sales training program.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the United States needs to “suspend the Saudi program until we find out what happened here” during a Fox News interview on Sunday.

“There’s something really bad here. We need to slow this program down and reevaluate," Graham said.

Another close Trump ally and Saudi critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., whose district includes the Pensacola base where the shooting occurred, told ABC on Sunday that we should “not be taking new incoming Saudi students until we’re absolutely confident in our vetting process.”

Why it matters: Enraged by Saudi Arabia’s conduct in the Yemen war and its murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, Congress was already taking aim at Saudi training programs. Alshamrani’s actions will only add fuel to that fire.

Congress already cut off funding for Saudi Arabia to participate in the International Military Training and Education Program (IMET). Graham, who chairs the Senate foreign aid panel, allowed Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to include that provision in the 2019 annual spending bill.

While Saudi Arabia had only received roughly $10,000 in IMET per year, the program renders countries eligible to save millions in other training programs. This includes training under the Foreign Military Sales Program. Leahy’s office has estimated that Saudi Arabia has lost between $20 million to $30 million in annual savings after Congress booted it out of IMET.

What’s next: Graham and Leahy have once again restricted IMET funding — and the associated savings — for Saudi Arabia in this year’s Senate spending bill. Graham and other lawmakers have also sought to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and suspend arms sales to the kingdom.

Know more: For more information about IMET and Saudi training programs, check out congressional correspondent Bryant Harris’ report from earlier this year.

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