The Cable

U.S. Resuming F-16, Tank Shipments to Egypt

Just in time for Egypt’s military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the White House announced Tuesday it would allow shipments of U.S. fighter jets, tanks, and missiles to Cairo — reversing earlier reluctance to supply heavy aid before President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi proves he has embraced democratic reforms. President Barack Obama said he would withdraw ...

The US has decided to resume the shipment of 12 F-16 fighter jets to Egypt.
The US has decided to resume the shipment of 12 F-16 fighter jets to Egypt.

Just in time for Egypt’s military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the White House announced Tuesday it would allow shipments of U.S. fighter jets, tanks, and missiles to Cairo — reversing earlier reluctance to supply heavy aid before President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi proves he has embraced democratic reforms.

President Barack Obama said he would withdraw a U.S. hold on the annual aid package — which has been in place since October 2013 — in a phone call to Sisi on Tuesday.

In a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the Obama administration has “made clear our commitment to simultaneously pursuing our security interests and our support for meaningful Egyptian political reform.”

The decision to unlock part of the $1.3 billion in aid, as outlined in the 2015 appropriations law, came after officials examined the Pentagon’s relationship with Cairo “to determine what types of support make most sense — for the United States and for Egypt — under present conditions in Egypt and the region,” Meehan said.

In recent months, Egyptian forces have battled Islamic extremists in the Sinai Peninsula and launched airstrikes against the Islamic State in Libya, which claimed to have beheaded 21 Egyptian civilians. This week alone, the Egyptian navy deployed to the Yemeni coast to shell Iranian-backed Houthi rebels advancing toward the southern port city of Aden. Sisi also recently raised the possibility of sending Egyptian ground troops to Yemen, but that has not yet happened.

The 2013 halt in military aid came two months after Sisi’s government began violent crackdowns on street demonstrations protesting the Egyptian military’s ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi, a leader in the Islamist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Overall, the United States will send 12 F-16 jets, 20 Harpoon missiles, and as many as 125 Abrams “tank kits,” to be shipped to Egypt in pieces and assembled at a factory that is owned by the Egyptian Army. Officials said it is being sent to help Cairo deal with urgent national security and counterterrorism concerns.

Still, the Obama administration remains concerned by what is widely seen as a sham legal system in Egypt, including imprisonment of nonviolent activists and mass trials.

In a statement, House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) praised the renewed aid that he said will help bolster security ties between Washington and Cairo, even as democracy continues to evolve in Egypt.

“Providing them with the means to protect Egyptians and Americans from the threat of terrorism is the right thing to do,” Thornberry said.

Not far from the minds of decision-makers in Washington are likely the burgeoning relationships that Cairo has been forging with Russia and France. In February, Egypt agreed to purchase 24 Rafale fighter jets from France as part of a deal valued at $5.9 billion. Russian President Vladimir Putin also pushed weapons sales in a recent visit with Sisi.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Correction, March 31, 2015: The $1.3 billion in aid was outlined in the 2015 appropriations law. An earlier version of this article mistakenly said it was outlined in the 2015 defense authorization bill. Also, Obama did not need to have the secretary of state’s certification to release the military aid. An earlier version of this article mistakenly said Obama had waived a U.S. requirement for the secretary of state to certify that Egypt had made democratic reforms.

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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