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U.S. Wants to Reduce Role in Sinai

August 2, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. military is pushing ahead with efforts to cut the number of its peacekeepers in the Sinai, citing extra demands placed on troops by the war on terrorism.

Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith said Friday that the Pentagon has begun sounding out other nations to take over some of its tasks in the 11-nation Multinational Force and Observers that has been patrolling the area between Israel and Egypt for more than 20 years.

``We’re not talking about ending U.S. participation in the mission,″ Feith told a Pentagon press conference. ``We’re talking about looking at the whole (force), how it can reconfigure itself, how it can continue to fulfill its mission more efficiently.″

He did not say whether that meant officials might be considering cutting the overall number of troops there as well.

At the suggestion of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Feith met Thursday with delegations from Israel and Egypt, and the three nations issued a statement saying they would meet again to talk about the ``structure and composition″ of the force.

The U.S. proposal to sharply reduce troops on the peninsula is part of a larger Bush administration review of the U.S. role in the world, meant to make sure American forces are being used efficiently, Feith said.

``The urgency of this re-examination of our role ... obviously increased a great deal as the result of the Sept. 11 attack and our involvement in the war on terrorism,″ he said.

The 865 Americans in the Sinai make up nearly half the total 1,836 soldiers, sailors, pilots and other uniformed members of the combined force. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is said to want to cut that number back to some two dozen at the force’s headquarters.

Feith declined to confirm any number the Pentagon wants to cut, saying that is partly what the consultations are about. He said more talks could come in another few weeks.

The three delegations also talked about how much money the United States might continue to contribute to the force’s budget, Feith said. It is now $51 million and shared equally by Israel, Egypt and the United States, though some other countries have made contributions in some years.

``I think everybody agrees that a large part of this mission is political in nature rather than military in nature,″ he said.

``It’s a confidence-building presence. ... It is not as if you have two hostile countries being separated by this force.″

The force patrols and mans checkpoints in a huge triangle of desert, jutting into the Red Sea, that Egypt lost to Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and regained in its U.S.-brokered 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The multinational force patrols are meant as monitors to ensure both sides that the peace is being observed.

Thursday’s joint statement said Egypt and Israel ``express their understanding of the competing requirements faced by United States forces around the world, especially in light of the war on terror.″


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Multinational Force and Observers: http://www.mfo.org

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