Egypt's top military commander vows army overhaul

Defense minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promises better training, more modern weaponry for Egyptian troops.

Egyptian soldiers in Sinai 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Egyptian soldiers in Sinai 370
(photo credit: reuters)
CAIRO - Egypt's most senior military commander has promised better training and more modern weaponry for the army in an apparent effort to satisfy officers' demands for change, which have multiplied after an uprising last year.
Commander-in-Chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is also the defense minister, was appointed by the country's first Islamist president Mohamed Morsi only last month and is under pressure to shake up a military which until recently had held the balance of power in Egypt for decades.
Addressing troops last week during the first military drill in a series to mark the 39th anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel, Sisi reassured troops that change was on its way despite the fact that the drill was being conducted using old arms like the Soviet BM-21, a rocket launcher in use for 40 years.
"We will devise a comprehensive program that develops real training for the forces in all military branches to maximize the performance of individual officers and soldiers during my time here," he said, according to a live recording of his speech obtained by Reuters.
Addressing troops participating in the drill, which took place along Egypt's western border with Libya, Sisi, 57, acknowledged that Egypt's military capabilities trailed those of other armies.
The army would replace some of its arsenal within 3-6 months and was working to extend the range of a missile system known as "Saqr" to 45 kilometers, he said.
"Regarding the status of our military equipment, we may feel that some of it is modest but we must work with what arsenal we have. We will not be able to change all of our hardware completely. What we can do is achieve the highest standards of shooting and efficiency. This will compensate for the modest equipment we are gradually trying to replace," he said.
Egypt receives $1.3 billion in military aid annually from the United States but officials say that is not enough for the country to keep up with rivals such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Officers have said the US money benefits American arms manufacturers as it forces Egypt to buy outdated weaponry.
Comments may be related to growing unrest in Sinai
Sisi's comments appeared to be aimed at army officers who have said they view Egypt's revolution - which toppled veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak last year - as their own chance to win better salaries and improved conditions and training.
Sisi is also under pressure to tighten up security in the Sinai Peninsula, a desert area which borders Israel, and to crack down hard on Islamist militants operating there.
President Morsi sacked Sisi's predecessor, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi last month along with other senior military and police officials after an attack blamed on Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian border guards in the area.
Israel, which has repeatedly urged Egypt's new rulers to tackle the Sinai problem is looking on nervously and is uneasy that Egypt is now being governed by Islamists.