UPDATED: Obama Cancels Huge Military Exercise in Egypt; Hagel Calls Cairo

                              US Marines during Operation Bright Star 2009

In another attempt walk the line between expressing his administration’s concern with the violence that the military-led government in Egypt has launched upon protesters in Cairo without taking any concrete punitive steps, President Obama announced today that the United States was pulling out of a biennial joint military exercise with the Egyptian military.

The thirty year-old event scheduled for next month would have included thousands of US and Egyptian troops as well as hundreds of ground vehicles, along with allies form Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

The exercise has now been cancelled two times in a row—the 2011 exercise was also scrapped after the military ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February of that year, and Washington worried about anti-American sentiment in the country after the United States failed to support the pro-democracy demonstrations in Cairo.

But after this week’s bloodletting where government security forces stormed protest camps and killed over 700 protesters while wounding thousands more, the White House decided to cancel the military exercise.

Speaking during a family vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, the president said that while the United States will “sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.”

Due to the violence, “this morning we notified the Egyptian government that we are canceling our biannual joint military exercise, which was scheduled for next month.”

The United States provides Egypt with $1.3 billion a year in military assistance.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel also spoke with Egyptian Minister of Defense Al-Sisi on Thursday.

In a statement, Hagel said that “the United States has made it clear that the Egyptian government must refrain from violence, respect freedom of assembly, and move toward an inclusive political transition. Recent developments, including the violence that has resulted in hundreds of deaths across the country, have undermined those principles.”

Hagel added that he told Minister Al-Sisi that “the Department of Defense will continue to maintain a military relationship with Egypt, but I made it clear that the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our longstanding defense cooperation at risk.”

Bright Star has been a key exercise in the region since its inception in 1981 as an offshoot of the Camp David Peace Accord between Egypt and Israel.

In the 1990s the event expanded to include troops from 11 nations around the globe with 70,000 troops participating. The event in 2009 was typically ambitious, including troops from the US, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Greece, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, France, and Pakistan.

During the war game, more than 300 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division staged a strategic jump into the desert along with Egyptian, German, Kuwaiit, and Pakistani paratroopers, and about 1,000 Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit stormed ashore in an amphibious landing at Al Amein Beach.

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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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