The Pentagon View of Egypt: What the Uprising Means for the U.S. Military

Close relationship between U.S., Egyptian militaries seen in aid, cooperation

Feb. 3, 2011 — -- From the fighter jets that have flown low and loud over protesters, to tanks, to tear gas canisters clearly marked "Made in the USA" -- the extent of U.S. military support for Egypt has been on display throughout the anti-government protests.

The U.S. provides Egypt with more than a billion dollars of aid each year, most of that military aid.

Partly for that reason, the Defense Department has been keeping a close eye on developments in Egypt. From Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has kept in close contact with his Egyptian counterpart, to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, the crisis there has been of major concern.

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Sen. John McCain said on "Good Morning America" today that the aid should be cut off if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak does not step aside.

A Pentagon spokesman today referred questions to the White House about whether the administration is reviewing aid packages to Egypt. Later, an official seemed to indicate that if such a review is underway, it's not occurring at the Pentagon.

The U.S. and Egyptian military have had a close relationship for decades. Egyptian military officials were at the Pentagon when the protests began, and were recalled to Cairo.

The Egyptian military, one of the most respected institutions in the country, has helped the U.S., as well. It sent tanks into Iraq in 1991 after that country invaded Kuwait. And it allows U.S. warships to pass through the Suez Canal, significantly shortening the trip to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The greatest benefit to the United States may be the Egyptian military's level of training. The discipline and restraint that the Egyptian military thus far has shown has stopped the Egyptian crisis from becoming even more of a bloody mess.

Analysts now wonder if Egyptian forces will step in not to stop the protesters but the pro-Mubarak forces.

Looking ahead, the military likely would play a key role in any transition of power -- helping any caretaker government keep the peace before elections can be scheduled.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said the Egyptian military's been acting professionally so far.

"To date, we have seen them act professionally and with restraint," Lapan said. "Again, it's a very fluid situation, so we are watching every single day."

Lapan said the intimidation of reporters definitely is being noted throughout the government, including the Pentagon.

"There is awareness at the highest levels here and over at the White House and the State Department," he said. "It is an issue that is being discussed here and there, here and over at the State Department and the White House. Everyone is aware of the issue.

"At this point, I don't know that we know the exact role of the Egyptian military in this situation with journalists," he added. "We're gathering the facts of what's happening over there." Watch Martha's report on what has caused the unrest in Egypt.

ABC News' Luis Martinez contributed to this report