SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Military leaders on Saturday said it is too early to label the deadly shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida as a terrorist attack, and said they hope the incident doesn’t overshadow the importance of working with foreign military allies for U.S. national security.
“That’s an advantage we bring as a military,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein at the Reagan National Defense Forum. “We have allies and partners, and often our adversaries don’t.
“My biggest concern would be that we would walk away from those key relationships, folks we know that we need when we go into combat.”
On Friday, a Saudi Arabian military student shot and killed three and injured eight more with a handgun before being killed by local law enforcement officials. Military investigators said they do not yet have a clear motive for the attack.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday told the forum crowd that it was “too early in my opinion to draw those types of conclusions” about terrorist connections. The Associated Press reported earlier in the day that the student had hosted a dinner party earlier in the week where showed videos of mass shootings.
“Right now approaching those investigations carefully,” Gilday said.
After the shooting, Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott called for a review of all U.S. military programs that train foreign nationals, stating that “there is no reason we should be providing state-of-the-art military training to people who wish us harm.”
But the senior military leaders said despite the incident, they do not share larger concerns about the programs.
“All of us have forces in other countries, and theirs in ours,” said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger. “You have to investigate this and see what’s behind it. But reservations about sending Marines or servicemembers to other countries, including Saudi Arabia, I have none at all.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement Friday evening that the department is “considering several steps to ensure the security of our military installations and the safety of our service members and their families.”
Officials held a moment of silence for the victims of the attack before the forum, which brings together lawmakers and defense leaders for a day of discussions on national security strategy, priorities and challenges.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.