Pentagon, State Dept. differ on threat to Americans in Bahrain

Monday, August 16, 2004

The State Department has allowed U.S. embassy staffers to return to Bahrain, but the Defense Department has refrained from issuing such a decision.

The State Department said it terminated its travel warning to Bahrain after a review of the security situation. The move came nearly six weeks after the evacuation of American dependents from the Gulf Cooperation Council state in July.

For its part, the Pentagon said it would not authorize the return of dependents of its staffers or those from the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. About 3,000 sailors and other naval personnel have been based with the Fifth Fleet in Manama.

Fifth Fleet spokesman Lt. William Speaks said the evacuation of dependents of military personnel was based on threats beyond Bahrain. Speaks said the regional threat was still deemed valid, Middle East Newsline reported.

Howeer, a U.S. Defense Department school for the children of dependents of American military personnel in Bahrain will reopen for the forthcoming school year.

Organizers said the Pentagon-sponsored Bahrain School will reopen for classes on Aug. 31 despite the departure of 350 students and 80 teachers from the kingdom. The students and teachers were included in the evacuation of more than 1,000 dependents of U.S. defense and military personnel from Bahrain in July.

"The decision to open the Bahrain School has been taken at the very highest levels of government in both Bahrain and the United States and reinforces the historic special relationship between the two countries," Dhafer Al Umran, a board member of the Bahrain International School Association, said.

"The decision resulted from a careful and thorough review of the existing security situation in Bahrain and the potential for future attacks on U.S. interests and facilities in the area," a State Department statement said on Aug. 12. "The embassy has determined that there are currently no specific threats to U.S. mission personnel in Bahrain."

In July, about 1,000 dependents of U.S. military and other staffers were evacuated from Bahrain in wake of an alert of an Al Qaida-related attack.

The evacuation also included non-essential personnel from the U.S. embassy in Manama and their dependents.

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the decision to return embassy staffers to Manama was based on its arrest of six suspected Islamic insurgents as well as security measures taken by the kingdom and U.S. authorities.

"I would say our decision to end authorized departure, or lift authorized departure status, is based on a variety of considerations, including steps we've been able to take to protect ourselves, as well as counterterrorism cooperation and other steps host government has been able to take," Ereli said.

The State Department also reported the return of non-essential embassy staffers to Saudi Arabia. But the department said families of U.S. diplomats would not be included.

"The original decision to relocate family members and non-essential staff was not based on the travel advisory or security situation in Bahrain alone," Speaks said. "It was based on the entire region. The travel advisory for this area at large is still in effect. So at this point no decision has been made by the department to change the status."

On July 14, Bahrain detained six people accused of being part of an Al Qaida plot against targets in the kingdom. Bahrain has also bolstered security around key ports.

"It is important for everyone to understand that [the relocation of family members and non-essential staff] was not based on one travel advisory for Bahrain or certain individuals being detained," Speaks told the Manama-based Gulf Daily News. "It was based on a pool of information."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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