DOD, White House anticipated shake-up in Egyptian military leadership

Top Pentagon and administration officials anticipated the massive shake-up in Egypt's senior military leadership, and are confident the change will not affect military relations between the United States and the fledgling democracy, the administration said Monday. 

On Sunday, newly minted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sacked Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the powerful head of the country's military, and the chiefs of Egypt's armed forces. 


Tantawi and the country's top military brass had been part of the ruling military council that had run Egypt since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak last February. 

The move effectively eliminates Morsi's chef political opposition as well as the massive restrictions the council imposed on Morsi's administration after his election earlier this year. 

While the move was a shock to many in Egypt and across the international community, Tantawi's dismissal and the dissolution of the military council came as no surprise to Pentagon or White House officials. 

"We had expected President Morsi to coordinate with the military to name a new defense team and we will continue to work with Egypt's civilian and military leaders to advance our many shared interests," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday. 

DOD leaders had anticipated Morsi was angling for a change in the country's military leadership, with inklings of the move coming during Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's visit to the country in late July, DOD spokesman George Little told reporters the same day at the Pentagon. 

At the time, Panetta sought to downplay a simmering schism between Morsi's administration and the now defunct military council headed by Tantawi during his visit to the country. 

The military council was scheduled to fully hand over power to Morsi last June. 

But that month, Tantawi dissolved the country's parliament and implemented several resolutions to limit Morsi's presidential powers and extend the group's authority until the election of a new parliament. 

Tantawi's power grab cast doubt on whether the country's military would peacefully relinquish power to Morsi and his democratically elected government. 

But with Morsi's dismantling of Egypt's military establishment, that transition is now seemingly back on track. 

While Pentagon officials were "not sure we had precise knowledge" on when Morsi planned to pull the trigger on his plan, American military officials knew a change was coming, Little said. 

The White House and Pentagon have both expressed deep confidence in Egypt's new top military chief and Tantawi's replacement, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, noting the leadership shift would not disrupt ongoing military ties between the two countries. 

Abdel is "known to us and has worked well [with the United States] in the past," Little said, noting Abdel is a longtime member of the country's military staff and would carry on the tradition of cooperation with the Defense Department. 

"It is important for the Egyptian military and civilian [government] to work closely together to address the economic and security challenges facing Egypt," Carney added. 

"We hope that President Morsi's announcement will serve the interests of the Egyptian people," he said. 

The move comes days after radical militant groups based in the Sinai peninsula launched a brazen attack against Egyptian forces, in an attempted strike against targets inside Israel. 

In response, Morsi launched several missile strikes against the group's sanctuaries inside Sinai. The attacks were the first time the Egyptian military launched a military offensive against militants in that region since 1973.