Exclusive: U.S. lawmaker pushes White House to aid allies in Islamic State fight
By Patricia Zengerle
(Reuters) - A senior Republican lawmaker has told President Barack Obama she was prepared to block foreign aid money if the administration did not provide fighter jets and tanks to Egypt and arms to other regional allies fighting Islamic State militants.
In a letter to Obama, Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House of Representatives State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee, said Egypt needs F-16 aircraft, M1A1 Abrams tanks and other weapons that have been held up since 2013. Granger has the power to place holds on foreign aid, including general assistance and weapons shipments.
Granger urged the administration to give Iraqi Kurds tools and training to fight Islamic State and to make providing weapons to Jordan a priority, according to the letter, seen by Reuters on Friday.
Dated Thursday, the letter criticized the administration as Congress is about to consider Obama's request for formal authority for a military campaign against Islamic State.
Republicans, who took control of the U.S. Congress in January, have pressed for more robust U.S. military involvement in fighting the militants, who have killed thousands of civilians while seizing territory in Iraq and Syria.
"As Egypt, Jordan, and the Kurds retaliate and defend themselves against ISIL's heinous acts, U.S. security assistance is being held or delayed by bureaucratic processes and ill-advised policy decisions by your administration," Granger wrote, using an acronym for Islamic State.
The U.S. State Department referred requests for comment to the White House, where officials did not immediately respond.
AID TO JORDAN
Granger said she was calling on the White House to "immediately release" remaining weapons and funds to Egypt, provide Jordan with weapons it had requested and ensure the Kurdish Peshmerga have equipment they need.
"I am prepared to do everything within my power to make sure this occurs, including placing holds on Congressional Notifications (spending plans) and drafting legislation to hold your Administration accountable," Granger wrote.
Egyptian warplanes bombed sites in Libya on Monday in response to the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by Islamic State militants there.
Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), which makes the F-16, said the aircraft built for Egypt were part of a foreign military sales agreement between the United States and Egypt. The Abrams tanks are made by General Dynamics Corp. (GD.N)
Twelve of 20 F-16s built by Lockheed under its last contract with Egypt are in storage at Lockheed’s Fort Worth, Texas, facility. They have been formally transferred to the U.S. government, which is paying Lockheed to store and maintain them.
The current U.S. policy on Egypt is to hold up many shipments of big-ticket weapons until Washington can certify that Cairo has made progress on human rights.
Granger represents the district where Lockheed’s facility is based, but the company would not necessarily profit from a move to release the planes since the U.S. government has already paid Lockheed for them.
U.S. officials said last week that planning was well under way to help replenish Jordan's supplies of ordnance. Jordan's King Abdullah visited Congress earlier this month, the same day Islamic State released a video of the murder of a Jordanian pilot.
The administration has said it is supplying guns and ammunition to the Kurds, who are fighting Islamic State in northern Iraq, but it is channeling them through Baghdad. Some Republicans have said the supplies should go directly to the Kurds.
(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Roberta Rampton; Editing by David Storey, Toni Reinhold)