The United States military flew Bahrain’s terminally ill prime minister to America for hospital care two months before his death, the State Department acknowledged, underlining the importance of the Gulf island kingdom.
In a statement released on Friday to The Associated Press news agency, the State Department said a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III carried Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa to the Mayo Clinic hospital in Minnesota state.
“In September, the United States provided medical transportation assistance to Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, a US friend and ally,” it said.
The care offered to Sheikh Khalifa came just after the US military similarly flew Kuwait’s late ruling emir to the same hospital.
Both countries host major US military bases in the region and are considered major non-NATO allies, granting them military and economic privileges with Washington.
On September 18, the C-17 “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 Sheikh Khalifa, who died on Wednesday at the age of 84.
The US 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 specialised doctor, a nurse and a respiratory therapist.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered condolences to Bahrain over Sheikh 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 Sheikh Khalifa’s body home from Minnesota on Thursday. The burial was limited to the family due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the waterways of the Middle East.