CAIRO (AP) - Egypt's military, the biggest recipient of U.S. military aidafter Israel, is in decline, according to American diplomats, whoblame the Arab nation's top brass for failing to modernize andadapt to deal with new threats.
U.S. diplomatic memos leaked this month show previously unknownfriction between the two allies over military assistance andstrategy. Military cooperation has always been seen as anunshakable link between Egypt and the U.S., even as the politicalside of the alliance has gone through public ups and downs overWashington's on-and-off pressure on reform and human rights.
The disagreements, the memos show, are over a wide range oftopics, with the U.S. pressing Egypt to focus its military towardterrorism, halting cross-border smuggling and helping out inregional crises. They also suggest that, to the dismay of theAmericans, the Egyptian military continues to see Israel, its enemyin four wars spanning 25 years in the last century, as its primaryadversary 31 years after the two neighbors signed a peacetreaty.
"The United States has sought to interest the Egyptian militaryinto expanding their mission in ways that reflect new regional andtransnational security threats, such as piracy, border security,and counterterrorism," said a memo dated Dec. 21, 2008, released byWikiLeaks.
"But the aging leadership, however, has resisted our efforts andremained satisfied with continuing to do what they have done foryears: train for force-on-force warfare with a premium on groundsforces and armor."
The memos exposed that public talk of shared goals between theU.S. and Egyptian military is just rhetoric, says Steven Cook, afellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations and theauthor of a book on the Egyptian military.
"There doesn't seem to be much more and there hasn't been muchfor a while," he said. "The U.S. criticism further reinforces whatthe Egyptian military is all about - the ultimate instrument ofpolitical control. They are not there to project power, but toprotect the regime."
The military is the power base of the regime of President HosniMubarak, himself a former air force pilot. The army ousted themonarchy soon after it seized power in a 1952 coup and all of thecountry's our presidents since have come from the ranks of themilitary.
Egypt has its own complaints, too.
Egyptian military officials don't welcome pressure by theAmericans to change the doctrine of their armed forces. They alsocomplain that Washington has increased annual military aid toIsrael - growing from $2.55 billion in 2009 to an expected $3billion in 2011.
Since its peace deal with Israel, Egypt has received nearly $36billion in military assistance - an annual installment of $1.3billion.
With an estimated 1 million active and reserve personnel, theEgyptian military's last combat mission was in the 1991 Gulf War,when it fought as part of a U.S.-military alliance to liberateKuwait from Iraqi occupation.
According to the leaked U.S. memos, Egyptian officials toldvisiting U.S. defense officials they must convince Congress thatEgypt was worth more than the $1.3 billion a year it is getting inmilitary aid, according to a memo dated Feb. 28, 2010.
In the memos, U.S. diplomats lament that the Egyptian militaryhas a "backward" posture and has been resistant to U.S. efforts to"adjust its focus to reflect new regional and transnationalthreats."
They also criticize the military for assuming a direct role inthe Egyptian economy, saying it "stifles free market reform" withlarge military-owned companies active in industries like retail,construction and hospitality.
One memo specifically singles out Egyptian Defense MinisterMohammed Hussein Tantawi, in office since 1991, as the "chiefimpediment" to U.S. efforts to develop military ties between thetwo allies.
"During his tenure, the tactical and operational readiness ofthe Egyptian Armed Forces has decayed," a memo addressed to U.S.Gen. David Petraeus ahead of a visit he made to Egypt in 2008.Petraeus is now the top commander of the NATO force inAfghanistan.
Egypt has resisted sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan andonly recently started training military personnel from the twonations where U.S. forces are fighting stubborn insurgencies.
Instead, the memos say, Egypt places emphasis on trying toachieve military parity with Israel through the acquisition ofmodern conventional arms such as aircraft and tanks.
One U.S. diplomatic memo said Congressional debate to review -and attach conditions to - aid to Egypt may act as a pressure toolto force the Egyptian military to change its doctrine.
Hossam Sweilam, a retired Egyptian army general, says Egyptcontinues to view the defense of Sinai, the mostly desert peninsulastanding between mainland Egypt and Israel, as its core mission.Despite the peace treaty with Israel, he said, there are recurrentthreats from Israeli officials that justify this doctrine.
"The U.S. should not impose on us reformulating our military theway it wants, which we think is ultimately what
suits Israel and wedon't want to do what suits Israel."