U.S. may block return of dependents to Bahrain

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

ABU DHABI The U.S. Fifth Fleet may delay the return of dependents of military personnel to Bahrain.

U.S. officials said the Fifth Fleet envisioned the prospect that sailors would not be allowed to bring their families to Bahrain over the next year amid the heightened threat of an Al Qaida attack. As a result, they said, the Defense Department has approved a plan for a six-month rotation of more than 250 sailors based in Manama.

The first rotation was scheduled for mid-August and would include sailors from four ships based in Bahrain. The next rotation was scheduled for February 2005.

The Fifth Fleet and the Defense Department have completed the evacuation of dependents from Bahrain amid Al Qaida's threats against Western interests in the kingdom. Over the last month, 940 U.S. dependents were flown from Bahrain to a naval base in Virginia.

"The relocation went smoothly," Fifth Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Jamie Graybeal said.

The evacuation was ordered in early July and was meant to have lasted 30 days. But the Fifth Fleet has not announced when the dependents would return, a decision that officials said would be left to the Pentagon.

The evacuation of dependents as well as non-emergency Pentagon personnel was expected to affect operations of a Pentagon school in Manama. Over the last year, the Bahrain School contained 350 children of the U.S. military dependents and 60 American teachers. The teachers have also been evacuated.

The Pentagon has been conducting talks with Bahraini authorities over the future of the school. One option, discussed in a meeting held in Manama last week, was to refer students to the Bahrain International School.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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