Pentagon chief pledges support for Egypt's Sisi
CAIRO // US secretary of defence James Mattis met Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi and top brass in Cairo on Thursday, pledging support for the American ally on his first regional tour.
The brief visit came after Mr El Sisi hit it off with president Donald Trump during a White House meeting earlier this month.
Mr El Sisi’s visit marked a shift in relations after Mr Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama had given the Egyptian leader the cold shoulder for leading the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Mr Obama temporarily suspended military aid to Egypt following a bloody crackdown on Morsi’s supporters.
Mr Trump, however, has set aside criticism of the Egyptian leader’s human rights record while pledging to maintain support for the key US ally which receives an annual US$1.3 billion (Dh4.77bn) in military aid.
Mr El Sisi told Gen Mattis he wanted to “strengthen the ongoing military cooperation between the two countries”, the president’s office said.
Gen Mattis in turn “reiterated the US’s commitment to reinvigorating these relations and broadening prospects for cooperation”, it added.
In Egypt, the talks touched on the military’s counter-insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, where an ISIL affiliate has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen.
The insurgency in the Sinai took off after Morsi was ousted with ISIL increasingly expanding its attacks to other parts of Egypt.
It claimed two church bombings in the cities of Alexandria and Tanta on April 9 that killed 45 people, months after a deadly Cairo church bombing.
On Thursday, the Egyptian military said its air force had killed 19 Islamic extremists including a top ISIL cleric in Sinai.
The strikes in northern and central Sinai on “terrorist strongholds” of the local ISIL affiliate also destroyed four vehicles, it said.
The Pentagon is also concerned with preventing extremists from crossing Libya’s porous border with Egypt and the reported presence of Russian troops in Egypt’s western desert, which Cairo has denied.
Gen Mattis will be in Israel on the next leg of his tour, which started in Saudi Arabia. After Israel, he will return to the Gulf on Saturday for talks in Qatar.
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press
Updated: April 20, 2017 04:00 AM