The top U.S. military officer has cautioned against any move to cut U.S. aid to Egypt's military in the midst of the current protests, saying the aid has "intangible benefits" that contribute to the military's neutral and, so far, non-violent role in the crisis.
In an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America, Admiral Mike Mullen rejected threats by some members of Congress to cut the $1.3 billion of annual U.S. aid to Egypt if a government transition does not happen soon.
"There's a lot of uncertainty out there, and I would just caution against doing anything, until we really understand what's going on," said Mullen.
Admiral Mullen says the aid, including a substantial military component, benefits the United States, as well as Egypt. He said the long and close U.S.-Egyptian military relationship has paid dividends in the current crisis, after years of American training of Egyptian officers.
"Beyond just the equipment and those kinds of things, what that has also done is establish a relationship with the Egyptian military, which is one between our militaries of great strength," added Mullen. "And there are some intangibles associated with that tied to how they handle themselves, and how the focus and what they understand about who they should be, which are very, very positive."
Key Players in Egypt's Crisis
- President Hosni Mubarak: The 82-year-old has ruled Egypt for 30 years as leader of the National Democratic Party. Egypt's longest-serving president came to power after the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat.
- Mohamed ElBaradei: The Nobel Peace laureate and former Egyptian diplomat has gained international attention as a vocal critic of Mr. Mubarak and his government. Until recently he headed the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, and he has lived outside Egypt for years. ElBaradei founded the nonpartisan movement National Association for Change, and has offered to lead a transitional administration in Egypt if Mr. Mubarak steps down.
- Vice President Omar Suleiman: The new Egyptian vice president has served as head of intelligence and is a close ally of President Mubarak. He earned international respect for his role as a mediator in Middle East affairs and for curbing Islamic extremism.
- Ayman Nour: The political dissident founded the Al Ghad or "tomorrow" party. Nour ran against Mr. Mubarak in the 2005 election and was later jailed on corruption charges. The government released him in 2009 under pressure from the United States and other members of the international community.
- Muslim Brotherhood: The Islamic fundamentalist organization is outlawed in Egypt, but remains the largest opposition group. Its members previously held 20 percent of the seats in parliament, but lost them after a disputed election in late 2010. The group leads a peaceful political and social movement aimed at forming an Islamic state.
Admiral Mullen is referring to the mostly neutral role the troops in the streets have played and their restraint in not using their weapons against the demonstrators. In addition, senior American and Egyptian officers have long-standing and close relationships, creating a valuable back channel of communications. The admiral himself has spoken twice in the last week with his Egyptian counterpart, Lieutenant General Sami Anan.
"In my discussions with General Anan, he has assured me, he's not going to fire on his people, that they are very focused on the people of Egypt," explained Mullen. "They would like this, clearly, to transition peacefully. There are more army forces out today. You can see them just in the pictures. And so they've worked very hard to remain neutral, and they really do want to continue to do that."
The admiral said U.S. forces in the Middle East are in what he called a "higher state of awareness" as they monitor the crisis in Egypt, but their alert level has not been raised.
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