Head of US Central Command General Joseph Votel (R) sits for an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Daily editor Hany Assal (Photo: Al-Ahram)
In an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Daily newspaper published on Friday, General Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), discussed US military relations with Egypt, the ongoing anti-terrorism Operation Sinai 2018, as well as terrorist activity in the region.
Votel, who met with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo on Thursday during his current visit to Egypt, said that he tries to visit the country on a regular basis to ensure that strong bilateral ties are maintained.
"My current visit comes at a very important time, especially after the [recent] visits by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis," said the four-star General, who has been CENTCOM commander since March 2016.
"I believe that such consecutive visits should be looked at as a meaningful reflection of the importance of our relationship with Egypt," Votel told Al-Ahram.
He described military cooperation between the two countries — especially in the field of counterterrorism — as "very good."
"I think we have always maintained good military relations. We share fears over terrorism, so it is natural for us to continue cooperation in this area on a permanent basis,” Votel said.
Al-Ahram asked the general if US-Egyptian military cooperation has been negatively affected by last year's US decision to partially cut military aid to Egypt.
"My mission is to ensure that cooperation between us is not affected by such decisions, and that they advance in a positive way," answered Votel.
In August 2017, the US announced it would be holding back $195 million out of its annual $1.3 billion in military aid to Cairo pending hoped-for improvements in Egypt's performance on "democracy".
Egypt described the US move as a “misjudgement about the nature of strategic relations that have bound the two countries for decades."
"I see that we are moving forward, especially in the field of exchanging information," Votel told Al-Ahram.
Shortly following the US August 2017 decision on aid, US President Donald Trump assured President El-Sisi that he is keen to overcome any obstacles to good bilateral ties between the two countries.
Votel explained to Al-Ahram that he has discussed with President El-Sisi "the necessity for strong cooperation between us, especially since we need a long-term military alliance in Syria and an operational alliance in Afghanistan to fight terrorism, because it is an international problem that worries us all."
Votel also spoke to Al-Ahram about the newly launched Operation Sinai 2018, describing it as “very important.”
"I think the Egyptian forces are carrying out their duties in preserving the safety of the Egyptian people and their interests, and we always wish them success," he said.
On the war against the terrorist group Daesh, Votel said that despite their recent defeats in Iraq's Mosul and Syria's Raqqa, the group still has a presence in parts of Syria, where the US continues to fight them in cooperation with its allies on the ground.
He added that Daesh members have moved to other areas in attempt to take them over or use them as a launching pad to return to Mosul.
"Our mission is to stop them from doing this, and to isolate them," he stressed.
Votel also slammed reports by some media outlets suggesting that the US cooperates with Daesh or provides them with arms.
"I think this is absurd. Anyone who believes that the US government or army supports [Daesh] is speaking nonsense," Votel tol Al-Ahram.
"We are exerting major efforts in Syria and Iraq to fight and eliminate [Daesh]," he said, adding that he believes that this is proven by the facts on the ground.
Votel also said that Daesh members must be prevented from moving operations to other countries in the region.