Cairo and Washington: Expanding military cooperation

Ahmed Eleiba , Sunday 9 May 2021

Military officials in Cairo described the MoU as a framework agreement that reflects the growing bilateral military relationship between Egypt and the US

ACSMoU was signed by US Central Command Director of Logistics and Engineering Major General Jeffrey Drushal and Egyptian Assistant Minister of Defense for International Affairs Major General Mohamed Salah 

The Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Memorandum of Understanding (ACSMoU), which Egypt and the US signed on 27 April, establishes a framework for the Egyptian and US militaries to exchange logistical support, supplies, and services.

Military officials in Cairo described the MoU as a framework agreement that reflects the growing bilateral military relationship between Cairo and Washington.

“There have been many stops along the way to these closer military ties,” says Mohamed Qashqoush, professor of national security studies at the Higher Nasser Military Academy.

“Egypt is growing in importance as a strategic partner for the US, and regional developments have lent the Egyptian military establishment a significant role,” Qashquosh told Al-Ahram Weekly before pointing to some of the many collaborations between the two countries over the years in the battle against terrorism and other regional threats.

According to the US Embassy website, the MoU “will facilitate logistics and US force participation during Bright Star 2021, a multilateral exercise that will continue the proud tradition of the United States, Egypt, and partner nations working together to promote readiness to respond to regional threats, while building a mutual framework of countering terrorism and maintaining regional peace and security.”

It added: “While the MoU does not obligate either side to provide support, it does create a standing mechanism to ensure that US and Egyptian military forces can effectively offer reimbursable support to each other when required. Future joint exercises, exchanges, and training events can use the MoU to simplify cross-servicing and logistical requirements rather than signing short-term or activity-specific agreements.”

Noting how the bilateral military relationship has been the foundation for the US-Egyptian strategic partnership for more than 40 years, US Ambassador to Egypt Jonathan Cohen said: “US equipment supports the Egyptian Air Force, Land Forces, Navy, and Border Guards in countering threats to Egypt’s security. Defence cooperation with Egypt is a cornerstone of our strategic partnership, spanning counter-terrorism, border security, and joint training and planning to address complex geopolitical challenges.”  

The signing of ACSMoU comes two weeks after Egypt joined the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). Established in 2002, CMF has been described as an enduring multinational coalition committed to upholding the rules-based international order by countering illicit non-state actors on the high seas and promoting security, stability, and prosperity.

“The CMF’s area of operations encompasses some of the world’s most important shipping lanes with more than three million square miles of international waters, including the key chokepoints of the Suez Canal, Bab Al-Mandeb, and Strait of Hormuz,” the US Embassy in Cairo explained in its mid-April announcement that Egypt had just become the 34th member of the coalition.

An Egyptian Armed Forces communiqué announced that the Egyptian navy’s commander, Lieutenant General Ahmed Khaled, had met with Vice Admiral Samuel Paparo, commander of US Naval Forces, US Fifth Fleet, and of CMF, in the Ras Al-Tin Naval Base in Alexandria to discuss ways to promote military cooperation, coordinate efforts to address common threats and challenges to the security and stability of the region, and optimise Egypt’s participation in CMF in a manner commensurate with Egypt’s central role as an influential power in the region.

Egypt’s membership will improve mutual awareness and ability to operate in the central and northern Red Sea,” Paparo said, as cited in the US Embassy statement. “Egypt brings a wealth of operational experience in the region and maritime capabilities to CMF, and now provides coalition partners on both sides of the Red Sea, a waterway of significant strategic importance accounting for 10 per cent of the world’s trade.”

According to US military sources, the CMF furnishes military assets to support rotations among partner nations of Coalition Task Forces (CTFs) and staff to the CMF headquarters in Manama, Bahrain. There are three CTFs: CTF 150, which focuses on maritime security operations throughout the area; CTF 151, which conducts counter piracy operations, and CTF 152, which focuses on maritime security in the Arabian Gulf.

“With Egypt’s entry into CMF, this cooperation and interoperability will only grow,” Paparo said.

In a related development, a high-ranking US delegation arrived in Cairo this week on one leg of a regional tour that includes the UAE, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. According to sources in Cairo, the tour relates to a variety of bilateral, regional and international developments and issues, ranging from developmental issues and security cooperation to climate change.  The question of the Iranian nuclear programme and its regional implications is of particular importance to these countries which have previously voiced concerns over the original version of the agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, especially as it relates to the Iranian missile programme and drones. Iran has used drones extensively in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and in other areas that intersect with the vital sphere of Egyptian national security. Egypt has also repeatedly condemned missile and drone attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen against Saudi Arabia.

The recent MoU, and exchanges of meetings between Egypt and the US, reflect not just awareness of the need for closer cooperation and coordination and more enhanced capacities and interoperability in order to respond to common threats and challenges, but also the need to incorporate this into more systematic regional frameworks.

Cairo was a key member of the US-led coalition to liberate Kuwait in 1990-1991 and, since the 11 September attacks against the US, Cairo and Washington have been working together in many ways to combat terrorism. As recent developments show, they are now taking this partnership to higher levels.

After a decade of anarchy, when instability and security breakdowns swept the region, violent waves of terrorism proliferated, and non-state actors in the form of militias with access to advanced military capacities challenged standing armies, jeopardising regional and international security and threatening US interests in the region, there is every reason to strengthen bilateral military relations.

The US also has an additional reason: it wants to withdraw militarily from the region after 20 years of direct military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. This will require developing a new mode of US involvement that sees Washington engage more closely with its regional partners, foremost among them Egypt.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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