Report: Pentagon weighs withdrawal from Egyptian military exercise

The overarching military exercise would involve hundreds of U.S. ground troops, as well as American warplanes and ships, working in tandem with the Egyptian military and other regional allies. 

Assistant Pentagon press secretary Carl Woog on Wednesday declined to comment on possible U.S. participation in the Bright Star exercise or the future of planned U.S. weapons sales to Egypt. 

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has not been in contact with Egyptian military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his cohorts in Cairo since the outbreak of violence on Wednesday, according to Pentagon officials. 

In July, the Pentagon announced plans to indefinitely delay the first deliveries of American F-16 fighter jets to the North African country. The move was meant to pressure Egypt's military to work with forces aligned with former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, whose supporters protested against the army when it toppled the leader. 

The Pentagon initially expected only a temporary delay, and that it would complete the F-16 fighter sales later, a Defense official told The Hill at the time. 

"It is our plan to continue delivering these jets in the future," the official said, adding that deliveries of "other defense articles," such as helicopters and other weapon systems to Egypt, will continue unimpeded. 

U.S. national security officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are debating whether to proceed with this year's annual $1.3-billion military assistance package to Cairo. 

About two-thirds of the military aid to Egypt for this fiscal year has already been obligated, according to Senate appropriators.

But with more than reportedly 300 dead and hundreds more wounded in Wednesday's clashes between anti-government protesters and Egyptian military forces, Washington's continued military support for the country is now in jeopardy. 

Egyptian military forces moved in on a number protest sites in Cairo on Wednesday to flush out supporters of Morsi who had been occupying the sites for the past several days. 

Mass protests in Egypt, backed by the country's military over Morsi's hard-line Islamist views, led to the former president's ouster earlier this month. 

At the time, al-Sisi also announced the army would be spearheading the creation of a new technocratic government for Egypt. 

But the subsequent bloodshed from the military's offensive against the Morsi supporters on Wednesday triggered a state of emergency in the country and drew sharp condemnation from the Obama administration and Capitol Hill. 

White House press spokesman Josh Earnest said that actions taken by al-Sisi's forces run "directly counter to pledges" by the military-led interim government to "respect basic rights" of Egyptians. 

Secretary of State John Kerry called the military's actions “deplorable” and said they were an unnecessary escalation that represents a “serious blow” to peace and democracy in the region. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently visited Egypt with fellow Senate Republican John McCain, said Wednesday's attacks have brought the country closer to becoming a "failed state." 

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