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July 19, 2016

Pentagon Forces Congress to Wait for Late Bahrain Report

This blog is cross posted from the Huffington Post

Remember how a few weeks ago the State Department, almost five months late, finally produced the assessment on Bahrain that Congress had mandated last year? Well Congress is also waiting for another from the Department of Defense. So far this is four months overdue.

Congress has requested an analysis of how the current security situation in Bahrain affects the safety of U.S. personnel in the kingdom, and for the Pentagon to suggest alternative locations should they have to move. 

Page 759 of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Committee Print directs “the Secretary of Defense to provide a report to the Armed Services Committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate, not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, on threats posed to Department of Defense personnel and operations associated with United States military installations in Bahrain. The report should, at a minimum, include an assessment of the current security situation in Bahrain, the safety and security of Department of Defense personnel and dependents, and appropriate measures to mitigate the threat to U.S. operations and personnel including potential alternative facilities should U.S. personnel require temporary relocation.”

President Obama signed the act into law on November 25, 2015, making March 25, 2016 the deadline. Since March, the issue has become even more urgent as the security situation in Bahrain has sharply declined.

On Sunday the main opposition group Al Wefaq was dissolved. Leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab is currently on trial, hauled before a court for tweeting criticism of the repressive government. Leading Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim has had his citizenship stripped and leading members of civil society are prevented from leaving the country.

These developments have led a series of expert analysts to predict  a worsening security situation. On June 16, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) warned that the latest escalation “could contribute to further unrest and violence.”

The Pentagon should immediately send a clear-eyed, detailed assessment of the security situation and its implications for the estimated 8,200 U.S. personnel to the Armed Services Committees of the House and Senate. 

The State Department disappointingly failed to produce the security assessment Congress had asked for in the report it delivered in June. But the Defense Department shouldn’t shirk its responsibilities as the stakes and danger intensify for the safety of those based in the country. 

Congress needs an analysis it can use to determine a new course for Washington-Bahrain relations. The Obama Administration policy of muted public criticism of the ruling family’s repression, while arming Bahrain’s military, is clearly not encouraging the kingdom towards reform.

A bipartisan group of senators has urged a rethink on policy towards Bahrain; legislation in both houses proposes ending the sale of small arms to Bahrain until real reform has been implemented. The time has come for these and other consequences.

A further splintering of society, the continued rise of sectarianism, and the choking of all opposition and civil society voices by the Bahraini government pose a risk to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, its service personnel and their dependents.

The cold, meticulous dissection of this crisis and its implication for U.S. personnel that the Pentagon owes Congress is already 115 days overdue.