State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf was pressed at Wednesday’s press briefing over reports – published a day earlier by Al-Monitor’s insidery Congress Pulse – that the Obama administration has continued to delay the shipment of 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt despite having announced in April that it would release the aircraft, which Cairo regularly dispatches in conducting anti-terror campaigns in the Sinai Peninsula.
The Egyptians had in fact already paid for the helicopters in 2009 specifically in the context of an agreement aimed at providing the army with resources for fighting militants in the Sinai. Al-Monitor had noted that the delays risked “angering newly elected President Abdel Fattah [el-Sisi].”
Harf was asked on Wednesday about the contrast between the delay, on the one hand, and White House statements expressing appreciation for Washington’s “strategic relation” with Egypt, on the other:
QUESTION: I mean, it was mentioned in the statement, and of course this was raised here in the – on the podium from the strategic relation and – but still, it was – it seems that the Obama Administration are holding up the Apache helicopters to Egypt. I mean, do you have anything to say about that? It was announced April 23rd that 10 helicopters are going to be – to help in the anti-terror activities in Sinai specifically.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. I’m happy to check on the timing. I’m not aware of the timing on those.
QUESTION: I mean, timing – I mean, you mean if it’s done or not?
MS. HARF: I don’t know the details on that. Let me check.
QUESTION: It was reported, according to some reports here, that somebody from – a State Department official confirmed that the aircraft are in storage at the Fort Hood.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. That’s my understanding. That was the latest I knew, but I’m happy to check if there is an update.
The controversy over the Apaches specifically – and over a partial freeze in American security assistance to Egypt more generally – has been ongoing since the Obama administration took the decision to withhold some aid last October. The decision came a few months after Sisi, in a rare public interview, accused Americans of having “turned [their] back on the Egyptians… [who] won’t forget that.”
It was met with withering criticism from domestic analysts, U.S. lawmakers, and Washington’s traditional Arab and Israeli allies. Sisi’s recent landslide election victory was broadly seen as an opportunity to refresh U.S.-Egyptian ties.
Al-Monitor’s Wednesday report conveyed renewed frustration from the Egyptians:
“What we have been trying to say for the past couple of months or more, is that there is a dire need for the Apaches for the operation in the Sinai,” an Egyptian official told reporters in Washington at a briefing this week. “We are not the only ones who are saying this. Everybody in the region is saying it. The Israelis, the Emiratis, the Saudis — people actually want to help.”
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