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US military flew terminally ill Bahrain premier to America

In this Nov. 10, 2016, file photo, Bahrain's Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa greets Britain's Prince Charles in Manama, Bahrain.

JON GAMBRELL/AP

By JON GAMBRELL | Associated Press | Published: November 13, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The U.S. military flew Bahrain's terminally ill prime minister to America for hospital care two months before his death, the State Department acknowledged Friday, underlining the importance of the island kingdom.

The care offered to Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa came just after the U.S. military similarly flew Kuwait's late ruling emir to the same Mayo Clinic hospital in Minnesota. Both countries host major U.S. military bases in the region and are considered major non-NATO allies, granting them military and economic privileges with America.

On Sept. 18, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III "flying hospital" took off from Germany and landed in Rochester, Minnesota, the home of the flagship campus of the Mayo Clinic. It was followed to Rochester by a Boeing 767 owned by Bahrain's royal family. The Mayo Clinic at the time and since has declined to comment on the care it provided to Prince Khalifa, who died Wednesday at age 84.

The Air Force uses such C-17s for medical evacuations, triaging critically wounded soldiers while rapidly flying them onto major bases. The aircraft include onboard oxygen and the same lifesaving equipment found in hospital emergency rooms. The flights often include critical care air transport teams comprised of a specialized doctor, a nurse and a respiratory therapist.

The State Department acknowledged the C-17 flight carried Prince Khalifa in a statement Friday to The Associated Press.

"In September, the United States provided medical transportation assistance to Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, a U.S. friend and ally," it said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier offered condolences to Bahrain over Prince Khalifa's death.

"As the prime minister of Bahrain since its independence, Prince Khalifa was a statesman of the highest order and will always be known as a close friend and partner of the United States," Pompeo said.

A Bahrain royal family Boeing 747 brought Prince Khalifa's body home from Minnesota on Thursday. He was buried later Friday at a small funeral in the city of Riffa attended only by family and senior government officials due to the pandemic.

The kingdom off Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which patrols the waterways of the Mideast.