Mullen thanks Bahrain's king for handling of unrest
MANAMA, Bahrain — The streets of the diplomatic area were quiet Thursday night as Adm. Mike Mullen met with Bahrain’s King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa to discuss the political unrest here, offering reassurances from one military to another.
But the next morning, hours before more protests were expected to flood the streets of Manama after Friday prayers, Mullen was at the U.S. military base meeting with Marines from the security contingent that protects the embassy.
A picture of Mullen meeting the king was a front page, full color feature for the English-language Daily Times, under the bold headline: “U.S reiterates full backing for Bahrain.”
Mullen’s spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, said the chairman solicited the king’s viewpoint and “thanked [him for] the very measured way in which they’ve been handling the popular crisis here.”
Though the city has remained peaceful since military forces were pulled off the streets on Feb. 19, sentiments remain strong.
Friday’s protests were expected to draw thousands — Shiites in the west around Pearl Square, and pro-government Sunnis in the east, around the Grand Mosque.
For U.S. forces at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, there has been little interaction with the chaos just a few miles away. Personnel are banned from going near the protests, and have been advised to not provide base goings-on or speculate on social media or elsewhere.
“Except for the media, we almost wouldn’t know that these things are going on,” said Lt. Col. Mark Duffen, deputy current operations officer.
None of it has been directed against the U.S. presence, Duffen said, and some personnel think that the larger pro-government rallies nearer the American base have been ignored by Western media favoring the populist uprisings.
Mullen was here in December visiting the naval operations side, so he focused this visit on the Marines, lunching with about 80 Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team members.
U.S. Central Command had its Marines stand up a forward command post here in November with a bigger headquarters and plans for more Marines to come. Much of what they will do remains classified, though it includes everything from intelligence to humanitarian assistance, Duffen said. They’re also prepared to evacuate civilians from the unrest if needed.
With the Iraq War winding down, however, counterterrorism and foreign military training operations are on the rise across the region.
On Thursday in Djibouti, officials with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa said Camp Lemonier also was expanding rapidly, upgrading from tents to manicured neighborhoods of converted shipping containers used as living quarters, building bigger facilities and bringing in more self-sustaining energy and water equipment.
Later Friday, Mullen arrived in Kuwait to attend a parade Saturday celebrating the 20th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. Dignitaries and foreign heads of state, including former Secretary of State James Baker and Central Command’s Gen. James Mattis, were pouring into the airport and the highway leading to the waterfront was jammed with Kuwaitis cruising and dancing in the streets.
The celebration also marks the 50th anniversary of Kuwait’s independence, and drivers in cars painted and decorated with national colors honked their horns, waved the country flag, and cheered, all in anticpation a night of fireworks and celebrations.