By Megan Scully, CQ Roll Call
As instability rocks the region, President Barack Obama on Tuesday agreed to release long-stalled military aid to Egypt, including the delivery of 12 F-16 fighter jets, 20 Harpoon missiles and as many as 125 M1A1 tanks, to help the U.S. ally battle rapidly spreading threats from the Islamic State and others.
The decision comes after some pressure on Capitol Hill, including a letter last month from Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, who chairs the House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, warning the White House it could face legislative repercussions if it does not provide the needed weapons and funding.
The F-16s have been a particular pet project for Granger, whose Ft. Worth district is home to the plant where Lockheed Martin Corp. assembles the fighters.
"I have been a tough critic of the administration’s choice to delay military assistance to Egypt because I don’t believe it has been in the best interest of U.S. national security or regional stability and security in the Middle East to withhold vital military equipment to such an important ally in the region," Granger said in a statement. "Now that the decision has been made, I am hopefully the Egyptian military will be able to quickly receive the assistance the U.S. has promised them.”?
Another Texas Republican, House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry applauded the administration's decision to move forward with the aid.
"We encourage the government of Egypt to continue its democratic process. But Egypt is also a strong regional ally," Thornberry said in a statement. "Maintaining that relationship must be a priority for the U.S. Providing them with the means to protect Egyptians and Americans from the threat of terrorism is the right thing to do."
The military aid, which was suspended in 2013 amid concerns that the country’s leaders were not committed to an inclusive democracy following the military ouster of an elected president, remains a contentious topic on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers nonetheless agreed in the fiscal 2015 omnibus spending package (PL 113-235) to provide $1.3 billion in military financing to help Egypt buy U.S. weapons. The military aid is subject to democracy and human rights conditions, but the bill gives the secretary of State waiver authority.
In the announcement, NSC spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the White House had completed a comprehensive review of the planned support to Egypt and decided to use the flexibility Congress provided to move forward with the aid.
“These measures put our assistance programs more in line with current core U.S. priorities,” Meehan said. “They will also create a U.S.-Egyptian military assistance relationship that is better positioned to address the security challenges of the 21st Century, including the growth of an ISIL-affiliated group in Egypt that has launched devastating attacks on Egyptian soldiers and civilians in the Sinai, and to advance the military assistance relationship in support of U.S. national security interests.”
As such, Obama is moving forward with an annual $1.3 billion in foreign military financing for Egypt, allowing the country to retain its slot as the second largest recipient of that aid. At the same time, the White House will no longer allow Egypt to purchase equipment on credit, starting in fiscal 2018.
“By ending CFF, we will have more flexibility to, in coordination with Egypt, tailor our military assistance as conditions and needs on the ground change,” Meehan said.
Also in fiscal 2018, the White House will tailor much of its foreign military financing dollars to four specific missions: counterterrorism, border security, maritime security and Sinai security.
“In this way, we will ensure that U.S. funding is being used to promote shared objectives in the region, including a secure and stable Egypt and the defeat of terrorist organizations,” Meehan said.
March 31, 2015
By Megan Scully, CQ Roll Call