NEWS | June 14, 2011

Mullen: U.S., Egypt Maintain Strong Military Bond

By Cheryl Pellerin , American Forces Press Service

CAIRO, Egypt (June 8, 2011) – The U.S. military remains committed to a strong bilateral relationship with Egypt’s armed forces, continuing a practice that has endured for 30 years, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said here today.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke with Egyptian and international journalists after a day of meetings with business and academic leaders and military officials.

“In keeping with my government’s desire for a strong relationship with a democratic Egypt, this includes healthy support for a capabilities-based approach to Egyptian military modernization,” Mullen said.

Joint military exercises, routine dialogue, annual conferences and education opportunities, he added, are part of that continuing support.

“Relationships really do matter,” Mullen said, noting how important this connection – and his ongoing communication with Lt. Gen. Sami Hafex Ahmed Enan, chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces – has been since the Egyptian revolution began in January.

“I want to re-emphasize my appreciation and admiration for General Enan’s leadership and for how professionally the Egyptian military forces have comported themselves,” the chairman said. “The military stayed loyal to the people and to the institutions they knew those people would need moving forward and they stayed out of the political debate.”

But hard work remains ahead, Mullen acknowledged.

“Democracy is difficult,” he said. “Americans know this. It is my view that the Supreme Council also realizes the challenges they are facing, the pressure they are under and the expectations of the people. For our part, the U.S. military and the U.S. government will do what we can to help support an Egyptian-led transition.”

In response to questions about escalating unrest in the region, Mullen said it’s a time of great uncertainty.

“What’s going on in every country has a regional effect, … whether it’s here or in Tunisia or Syria or Libya, and specifically to the long-term resolution of the Palestinian and Israeli issues,” he said, adding that resolution of the issues in each country should come from the people themselves.

In Libya, where NATO forces are fighting to protect the Libyan people from harm by their own government, Mullen said he’s seen “slow progress, [with] more and more individuals from [Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s] regime who are defecting, some of whom are in the military.”

Last week, NATO forces made a decision to extend operations there for another 90 days, through Sept. 25, and NATO defense ministers meeting today in Belgium endorsed that decision.

The response by NATO and other countries, the chairman added, “is strong recognition that in the long run, Gadhafi [remaining] in Libya is an outcome that does not bode well for the Libyan people or Libya itself.”

From a military perspective, he said, “everything I see indicates a continued drumbeat of military operations to raise the pressure to force Gadhafi to depart,” adding that everyone involved in the effort “would like to see this end as soon as possible.”

In Syria, the government is responding violently against demonstrators.

“The president of the United States and many others have condemned President Bashir Assad for killing his own people,” the chairman said.

“There are very strong messages coming from the people of Syria in terms of their future, and I think President Assad and the leaders of Syria have to figure out how to answer that, and the answer isn’t to crush [the people].”

Mullen has focused on Yemen for several years, he said, “because of the growing amount of ungoverned space that terrorist organizations have been able to work in,” al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula, in particular.

Al-Qaida, which has grown in Yemen, is “well-led, well-resourced and has shown by its actions [and] continued strategic intent that it is working hard to kill as many Americans and western Europeans as it possibly can,” Mullen said.

The ongoing chaos created in Yemen by demonstrations and a violent government response has made the “incredibly dangerous” al-Qaida organization there “that much more dangerous,” the chairman said.

A recent ceasefire has produced a couple of days of calm in Yemen, said Mullen, noting he’d “certainly urge leaders from every side of this challenge to … try to resolve the issues peacefully.”

The downside of a much more chaotic and violent Yemen, the chairman said, “is not just bad for Yemen, it’s bad for the region and for the world, so we’re watching it very closely.”