On Wednesday, July 31, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed that Operation Bright Star in Egypt will still be held in September, despite ongoing debate over other aspects of U.S. security assistance to Egypt. Co-sponsored by the Egyptian military and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Bright Star is often seen as the “cornerstone of CENTCOM exercise and theater engagement programs,” according to the Washington Institute.
Due to unrest associated with Egypt’s political transition in 2011, the U.S. and Egyptian governments “mutually agreed to postpone the 2011 exercise” and rescheduled formal planning to begin in June 2012 for the “next installment of Exercise Bright Star in 2013.” The last Bright Star that took place, in 2009, brought together military forces from the U.S., Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Greece, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, France, and Pakistan. According to CENTCOM, Operation Bright Star is DOD’s largest reoccurring military exercise.
Ground forces from the U.S. and Egypt conducted the first Bright Star in the summer of 1980. As the size of ground forces grew each year, logistical challenges necessitated the change to biennial operations in 1983. Air force maneuvers were added in 1985, and Special Forces and naval maneuvers were added in 1987. NATO partners Germany, France, and the UK participated in Bright Star beginning in 1996, along with the United Arab Emirates. According to an Army press release, the Bright Star exercise held in October and November of 1999 was the “most significant,” as it was comprised of over 70,000 troops from eleven nations, and set “the foundation for future ambitious coalition operations.” The Pentagon cancelled U.S. participation in Bright Star in 2003 due to an over-commitment of U.S. troops at the onset of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the 2011 cancellation was announced as a postponement due to “political upheaval.”
Purpose and Components
According to DOD, Bright Star is a “biennial, multi-national exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and improve readiness and interoperability between U.S., Egyptian and Coalition forces.” Richard Williams of the Washington Institute writes that Bright Star typically begins with “affiliation training, (familiarization of the forces with each other’s equipment and training methods) and culminates in a combined field training exercise.” The most recent Bright Star in 2009 comprised operations as varied as a combined arms live-fire exercise between U.S., Egyptian, and Kuwaiti forces, military operations on urban terrain between U.S., Egyptian, and Pakistani forces, supply drops by the U.S. Air Force, amphibious assault demonstrations by U.S. and Egyptian forces, and parachute jumps by paratroopers from Germany, Kuwait, Pakistan, Egypt and the U.S., among other operations.
Egyptian and U.S. observers alike have yet to release details on Bright Star 2013. In February, Egyptian Armed Forces Spokesperson Ahmed Mohamed Ali denied Jordanian reports that Bright Star 2013 would be held in Jordan instead of Egypt. Recently, on July 24, news outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post reported that DOD spokesperson George Little stated that the U.S. remains “committed to the U.S.-Egypt defense relationship as it remains a foundation of our broader strategic partnership with Egypt and serves as pillar for regional stability.”