US to reduce monitor force in Sinai, as some still talk of war
Egypt-Israel-USA, Politics, 8/3/2002
The United States intends to cut the number of U.S. soldiers serving with the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai, said Douglas Feith, US defense undersecretary for policy.
The announcement followed an Aug. 1 meeting here of the United States, Egypt and Israel. The three parties discussed the reconfiguration of the MFO and a requirement that the United States has to reduce its participation in the MFO.
"We're not talking about ending U.S. participation in the mission," Feith said. "We're talking about looking at the whole MFO, how it can reconfigure itself, how it can continue to fulfill its mission more efficiently."
Feith said even before the global war on terrorism, the United States sought to cut the number of U.S. troops serving in such activities.
The three parties agreed to hold further expert-level talks to determine how to best configure the MFO.
The MFO grew of the Camp David Accords signed by Egypt and Israel in 1979. Part of the pact called on the United States and other nations to provide troops for the MFO. It is based in the Sinai. The first U.S. troops to serve in the area, in 1981, were from the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C. Currently about 850 U.S. soldiers serve in the MFO; most are from the Oregon National Guard.
Soldiers serve six-month deployments in the area.
In a joint statement, Egypt and Israel expressed appreciation for the role of the U.S. Army in the MFO. Both said they understood the need to reduce U.S. participation in the MFO due to the needs of the global war on terrorism.
Feith said the United States is not withdrawing from the organization nor does the troop cut mean a reduction in the U.S. commitment to peace in the region.
"Our thought is that there will be discussions among the United States, Egypt, Israel and the MFO leadership on what the missions are, how the United States can reconfigure its participation," he said.
Feith said he could not say when reduction would be effective. "It's an on-going discussion with the parties," he said.
The talks which were held on Thursday included delegations headed by the under defense secretary Douglas Feith, the Egyptian Lt. Gen. Abu Baker and the retired Israeli general Amous Yaroun. In April, the Pentagon announced it had proposed to the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon the possibility of reducing the number of American soldiers in Sinai.
Worth noting that Egypt and Israel have undergone wars before, and recently, there has been statements by some Israeli members of parliament and others that have called for striking the high dam in Egypt, and in talk of war by some, they alluded to Israel's nuclear power as tension and some talk of war was mentioned.
Feith said "The MFO mission has been underway for over 20 years. So it's certainly perfectly reasonable now, after that period, to say, you know, what are the premises, what are the particular functions that the people in the MFO force are fulfilling? Can they be fulfilled in a more efficient manner to allow the United States to be able to reduce without, you know, undermining the mission?"
Asked that the US wants to cut the US force to a very token presence, to perhaps 25 to 50 as opposed to the current 850-plus soldiers.
Feith said "No decision has been made on the exact nature of the cut," but the US "want to make as substantial a reduction as it is rational to make."
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