U.S. won’t commit to getting involved with Egypt’s growing security challenge.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi reportedly told U.S. Maj. Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla that Egypt is interested in closer security and counterterrorism ties with Washington.
Cairo’s hope for closer cooperation with America comes amid several deadly attacks on Egyptian forces in the volatile Sinai Peninsula.
Earlier this month, Jihadist militants killed 11 Egyptian soldiers at a checkpoint in the unstable northern part of Sinai. The Islamist terror organization ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, one of the deadliest in Egypt in years.
Kurilla, who is responsible for the U.S. troops deployed in the Middle East, confirmed that he discussed the ISIS threat with Egyptian authorities.
“I offered my condolences and my view of the ISIS threat,” said Kurilla.
Following the meeting with the top general, Sisi’s office declared terrorism the main challenge facing Egypt and stressed that increasing security depended upon “collective efforts to combat it.”
Egypt is considered an important U.S. ally in the Middle East. However, it is unclear whether Washington is interested in getting involved in Egypt’s increasingly serious security challenges. A senior American military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed that Kurilla offered to send U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Mitchell Bradley – an experienced military officer – to the Egyptians for “guidance and additional assistance.” Bradley is currently in charge of U.S. special operation forces in the Middle East region.
Last week, the Egyptian military reported that five Egyptian soldiers and seven Jihadists were killed during fresh clashes in Sinai.
“One officer and four soldiers were killed and two other soldiers were wounded,” according to an army spokesman.
In a display of solidarity, many ordinary Egyptians are backing their government and army on social media against the terrorist threat.
Amr Adeeb, a popular Egyptian TV host of the show El Hikayah (“the story”) expressed his shock over the attack that killed 11 Egyptian soldiers.
“The attack was both shocking and surprising to many people. That’s because we have kind of forgotten about that [terrorism],” said Adeeb who works for the Saudi-owned network MBC.
“But terrorism does not die and that’s a fact, but you can contain it and reduce its frequency,” added Adeeb.
The United States has been increasingly critical of human rights violations committed by regional U.S. allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In January, the Biden administration decided to reduce its military aid to Cairo by $130 million in protest over serious human rights violations committed by Egyptian authorities. Overall, Egypt receives more than$1.4 billion in annual aid from Washington.
Sarah Holewinski, Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said the slashed aid to Egypt was a step in the right direction, but was still insufficient.
“This was the right decision. Egypt’s atrocious human rights record should leave no room for compromises from the U.S. government. But we also saw $2.5 billion in U.S. arms sales to Egypt notified this same week…. It’s not much more than a slap on the wrist given those handouts,” said Holewinski.
Egypt is not a democracy and Freedom House ranks the nation as “not free,” with merely 18 out of 100 points. By comparison, Israel scores 76 points, while Saudi Arabia only gets 7 out of 100 in political freedom.
At the end of the day, however, Washington needs to balance its human rights concerns with the need for regional allies to combat the rise of militant Islam and the security threats emanating from the Iranian regime and its terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.