CAIRO, Egypt -- The United States will resume participating in the Bright Star war games in Egypt this year after scaling back in 2001 due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and canceling in 2003 because of the Iraq war, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday.
"We will commit to it, but probably not at the same level that we have in past years in terms of ground forces because our ground forces are very, very tied up doing other things, and the Egyptians know that," Gen. Richard Myers said in an interview with reporters traveling with him from Washington.
The difficulty of providing substantial numbers of U.S. ground forces for joint exercises with allies while the fighting continues in Iraq is not unique to Bright Star. It is one of the biggest multinational military exercises, with about 70,000 troops from about a dozen countries usually taking part.
Myers, on his first visit to Egypt in more than three years, met with Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Lt. Gen. Hamdi Moustafa Weheba, who is Myers' counterpart as Egypt's chief of defense.
In an interview on a hotel balcony overlooking the Nile, Myers said the reduced U.S. participation in Bright Star was not a problem for the Egyptians.
"We understand how important this exercise is to the region -- to the U.S. and to Egypt, as well -- but also, given what U.S. forces are doing around the world right now, there is not going to be as large a contingent as there has been in the past," he said.
Myers said the U.S. Air Force and Navy, which are not as heavily stressed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the Army and Marine Corps are, might play a bigger role in the biennial Bright Star war games this year to partially compensate for the reduced number of ground troops participating.
The exercise is usually held every other September in Egypt and in nearby waters and airspace. U.S. Central Command plans and organizes the U.S. portion of the exercise.
Egypt receives more than $2 billion worth of military and civil aid from the United States as a consequence of its signing the Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1979. After the treaty signing, the U.S. military began training side-by-side with its Egyptian counterparts in the Egyptian desert.
That joint training began in the summer of 1980 and became known as Bright Star. It was held every two years until 1992, when it was canceled because so many U.S. forces were committed to the Persian Gulf following the 1991 Gulf War to evict the Iraqi army from Kuwait. It resumed in 1994.