AFP — Despite the cancellation of a joint exercise announced by President Barack Obama on Thursday, US military aid will keep flowing to Egypt, an arrangement dating back more than three decades.
Designed to reward Egypt for its 1979 peace accord with Israel and to secure naval access to the Suez Canal, the annual $1.3bn in military assistance finances American-made weapons and hardware for Cairo as well as training for its officers.
Condemning a violent crackdown by Egyptian forces that killed hundreds of protesters, Obama said “traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual” and cancelled the Bright Star exercises, which are held every two years.
Obama faces growing calls in Congress to cut off aid altogether over events in Egypt, but halting the assistance would likely cost Washington billions, officials say, giving the US president little flexibility.
The US government signs contracts with defense companies to deliver fighter jets, missiles and other weapons to Egypt, and the contracts typically apply over several years — under the assumption annual American military assistance will continue.
As a result, if aid to Egypt were shut off, the US government would be liable for unpaid funds to the defense firms.
After Israel, Egypt is the largest recipient of US aid, with Washington paying out $68bn since 1979.
US military support makes up the lion’s share of Washington’s annual aid package to Egypt, with only $250m in economic assistance compared to the $1.3bn provided every year for defense.
The military assistance covers about 80% of the army’s materiel, including M1A1 Abrams tanks and F-16 fighter jets. The Abrams are produced in Egypt, which is due to acquire 1,200 of the tanks.
Egypt has a fleet of 220 F-16 fighters, and a 2010 agreement commits Lockheed Martin to provide 20 additional F-16s at a cost of $2.5bn. Out of the 20 war planes, 14 have been delivered but Washington decided in July to postpone the scheduled delivery of four F-16s after the Egyptian military’s ousting of President Mohammed Morsi.
The Bright Star exercise also was cancelled in 2011, amid mass protests against longtime president Hosni Mubarak. The last drill was held in 2009, which involved more than 1,300 troops as well as forces from Germany, Kuwait and Pakistan.
Along with expensive weapons and exercises, US aid also bankrolls education and training for Egyptian officers at American military bases and colleges. The Pentagon places a high value on the exchanges as a way of forging long-term relationships between senior officers on both sides.
Egypt’s current army chief General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, who led Morsi’s overthrow, is among those who came to America to study US military doctrine.