WASHINGTON - The United States is planning to cut back much of its military aid to Egypt, American officials said.
The decision, which is expected to be announced "soon", will hold up the delivery of several types of military hardware to the Egyptian military, these officials said, including tanks, helicopters and fighter jets. But it will not affect aid for counterterrorism operations or for border security issues involving the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza.
The Obama administration has faced pressure to halt aid since the Egyptian military deposed democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi in July. Although the Obama administration suspended a portion of Egypt's military aid in August, observers noted that it has been reluctant to take sweeping action against its longstanding ally in the Middle East. U.S. officials have refused to label Morsi's ouster as a coup, a determination that would legally trigger the cessation of aid.
The months since have been marked by sporadic outbursts of violence. Upwards of 1,000 Egyptians were killed as the military cracked down on widespread unrest in August. More than 600 died on a single day, Aug. 14. Since then, the army has become the target of severe criticism for its role in the violence, and for its aggressive prosecution of the Muslim Brotherhood. That included the execution in August of 36 Islamists in its custody.
The administration, according to The New York Times, had already frozen the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets and canceled joint military exercises with the Egyptian Army. The United States will also suspend nonmilitary aid that flows directly to the government, but not support for other activities like education or hospitals, it said.
The decision, which was first reported Tuesday by CNN, does not amount to an across-the-board cutoff of aid to the Egyptian government, officials said.
The Washington Post reported that an anonymous U.S. official informed the paper that the Obama administration would, within a few days, be reining in most of their nonessential military aid to Egypt.
The Wall Street Journal added that the administration would continue to provide aid for counterterrorism efforts and the defense of Israel. Under the administration’s plan, officials said, the military aid could be restored later if the Egyptian government showed signs of restoring democratic institutions and a new government.
In a statement Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said: “Reports that we are halting all military assistance to Egypt are false. We will announce the future of our assistance program with Egypt in the coming days.”
Obama, she noted, said at the United Nations General Assembly last month that the “assistance relationship will continue.”
In that speech, however, Obama was critical of Egypt’s military-backed government and warned that the delivery of American military hardware could be affected if it did not take steps to put the country on the path to a democratic transition.
While acknowledging that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government had lost the support of a large part of the Egyptian public before the military ousted him in July, Obama said the interim government “has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy.”
While the United States will continue to provide nonmilitary aid for education and other social programs that benefit the Egyptian people, he said, “we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a more democratic path.”
Human rights advocates said they hoped Mr. Obama would make the decision as a way to stand firmly against the repression in Cairo.