The Defense Department will announce updates to the vetting process for foreign students “in the coming days,” the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs said.
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper will visit Pensacola Naval Air Station and U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Florida on Jan. 22-23, Jonathan Rath Hoffman told members of the Pentagon press corps during a news conference Jan. 16.
During his visit, the secretary will provide an update to air station leaders on the new vetting and security procedures for foreign students following the shooting there last month by a military student from Saudi Arabia, Hoffman said.
Vetting had previously been handled by the home country of the students, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. “We’ve taken an enhanced look on how we can use our resources to do enhanced vetting,” he said. “We owe that to our people and owe that to the families, but we also want to ensure that this program continues.”
Hoffman said that DOD considers the international military training program “incredibly valuable,” noting that more than a million students from about 150 countries have trained in the U.S. over the program’s 20-year life “and until the Pensacola shooting, we’ve never had a serious security incident.”
“We will announce these new measures shortly, which will include physical security procedures as well,” he said.
The trip, Esper’s first this year, will also allow the secretary to thank the first responders at Pensacola in person for their leadership and courage during the shooting, Hoffman said.
At Southcom, the defense secretary will meet with the Southcom commander, Navy Adm. Craig Faller, “and be briefed on Southcom’s progress in implementing the National Defense Strategy,” Hoffman said.
“We share strong ties of democracy with our southern neighbors, and we look to strengthen those partnerships as global competitors — who do not share similar values — insert themselves into the region,” he said.
The U.S. is still in conversations with Iraq following an operational pause after the Iranian missile attack last week, Hoffman said. “These are conversations that routine [and] are persistent with regard to what our force posture is and is going to continue to be.”
There are no plans by the U.S. military to withdraw from the country, he said, adding that “the consensus in Iraq seems to be that the United States forces there are a force for good.”
The defensive measures enacted during the attack by the mission commander in Iraq worked, Hoffman said. U.S. troops continue to be co-located with Iraqi forces and continue to do the planning and to address operational matters, he said, noting that “Operations still continue to take place in Syria.”
Hoffman offered the department’s condolences to the family and friends of Army Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin and Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon, the two soldiers killed last week in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, during operations in support of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. He noted that Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist attended the dignified transfer of remains earlier this week.
“The department is also mourning the loss of a soldier who died in a training incident in Arizona, and we extend our condolences to their family and friends,” Hoffman said.