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Mattis arrives in Cairo

Visit comes just over a week after the worst-ever militant attack in Egypt’s modern history

Gulf News

Cairo: On a Mideast trip, US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis arrived on Saturday in Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials and discuss cooperation before heading on to Jordan, Pakistan and Kuwait, airport officials said.

Mattis’ visit comes just over a week after the worst-ever militant attack in Egypt’s modern history took place in the troubled northern Sinai where over two dozen extremists descended on a mosque and mowed down 311 worshippers.

President Donald Trump called Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi shortly after the attack and said in a tweet that “the world cannot tolerate terrorism” we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology.”

According to a statement by the Department of Defence, Mattis’ visit to Egypt is part of a five-day trip to the region “to re-affirm the enduring US commitment to partnership in the Middle East, West Africa and South Asia.” Mattis is scheduled to meet with Al Sissi and Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi.

From Cairo, Mattis will head to Jordan to attend a meeting on countering violent extremism in West Africa, hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah II. On Monday, Mattis will be visiting Pakistan where he plans to meet with Prime Minister Abassi before concluding his trip with a visit to Kuwait the following day.

Egypt is among the top recipients of US military assistance, receiving nearly $1.3 billion annually in addition to $250 million in economic aid. That assistance is linked to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, and underpins a US-Egyptian security relationship that is now mostly aimed at fighting terrorism.

Following the Sinai attack, Al Sissi instructed his security forces to use “all brute force” and gave them three months to restore stability in the volatile northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.

Northern Sinai has been the epicentre of an Islamic insurgency for years” the insurgency intensified following the 2013 ouster of Al Sissi’s predecessor, former Islamist President Mohammad Mursi. Egypt’s security forces have been waging a tough and costly campaign against militants in the area, where the local Daesh affiliate spearheads the insurgency.

But Al Sissi’s government has also expanded military ties with Russia and signed deals to buy Russian fighter jets, helicopters and other weapons. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Cairo on Wednesday, noting that military cooperation between the two countries has increased recently as Egypt placed new orders for Russian weapons.

In a move that could further irk the Americans, Russia approved a draft agreement with Egypt for Russian warplanes to use Egyptian military bases, according to a document released on Thursday — a deal that would allow Moscow to further increase its military footprint in the Middle East.