US to participate in joint military exercise with Egypt in Sinai– first time since Arab Spring

The Bright Star exercise will focus on counterterrorism, key for the battle against yearslong insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

Irshad Salim — The US military will take part in a biennial joint military exercise with Egypt called Bright Star 2017 — marking the first time the United States has participated in the joint exercise since the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The joint exercise dates back to the early 1980s, following the signing of the Camp David Accords during President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Bright Star was carried out every other year since — until 2012, when the exercise was canceled due to instability in Egypt after Mubarak’s ouster.

Then-President Barack Obama canceled the exercise in 2014 over allegations of human rights abuses by the Egyptian government following the 2013 military coup.

US Army Maj. Josh Jacques, a spokesman for US Central Command, which oversees US troops in the region, called Bright Star 2017 a bilateral “command-post exercise, field training exercise and senior leader seminar held with the Arab Republic of Egypt.”

Though Egypt may invite other countries such as Sudan as observers, only U.S. and Egyptian forces will take the field, U.S. defense officials said report Foreign Policy magazine online.

The bilateral effort now focused on counterterrorism operations, comes as Egypt struggles to contain a potent insurgency on the Sinai Peninsula –just months after Trump welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the White House in April, showering him with praise for fighting extremists at home and in North Africa.

A US defense official told CNN that about 200 US troops would participate in the exercise. The last time Bright Star was held, in 2009, some 1,300 US soldiers and Marines took part.

“Participation strengthens military-to-military relationships between US forces and our Egyptian partners,” Jacques told CNN, adding that “the exercise enhances regional security and stability by responding to modern-day security scenarios.”

“We appreciate the invitation to work with the Egyptian Armed Forces,” he added.

Cairo has no real peer threat in the region, but its borders with Libya and Sudan are increasingly causes for concern. Instead, battling Islamist terrorists who have gobbled up parts of the Sinai Peninsula is Cairo’s main worry — yet proving a tough task for Egypt’s traditionally focused military.

“The Egyptian military has been fighting and losing an insurgency in the Sinai for the last several years,” said David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and “has shown little interest in restructuring its large and lumbering military to fight an entrenched insurgency.”

“A smaller exercise focused on these highly technical things is the best thing that Egypt could get,” said Schenker to FP.

The work next month will be focused primarily on detecting and eliminating roadside bombs, and border security operations — all tasks crucial to ending the yearslong insurgency in Sinai, which has seen the influx of Islamic State fighters and funding over the past two years. The largest group in Sinai, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, is responsible for dozens of roadside bombs and other attacks, and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in late 2014. The group currently controls large swaths of the peninsula, report FP.

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