Egypt military chief cuts short U.S. visit

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 28, 2011 5:25pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Egyptian military official intends to return home on Friday from the United States, cutting short a visit for defense talks as unrest sweeps his country, the Pentagon said.

Lieutenant General Sami Enan, chief of staff of Egypt's armed forces, was leading a delegation in defense talks that started on Wednesday and were set to run through February 2.

"I believe he intends to return today," General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.

Egypt receives about $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic assistance. But the White House said it would review aid policy to Egypt based on events that take place there in the coming days.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak imposed a curfew and ordered troops to back police as they struggled to control crowds who flooded the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities to demand Mubarak step down.

A Pentagon spokesman said Alexander Vershbow, an assistant secretary of defense, had urged "restraint" in talks with Egypt's military earlier in the week.

The country's armed forces -- the world's 10th biggest with more than 468,000 members -- have been at the heart of power since army officers staged an overthrow of the monarchy in 1952.

All four Egyptian presidents since then have come from the military, now led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 75, who is defense minister and commander in chief.

Enan, in Washington, ranks below him but is one of the top military officers in Egypt.

A Middle East military expert in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, described Enan as someone who appeared to have the respect of the United States.

"He certainly seems competent," the expert said.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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