WASHINGTON — The Obama administration refuses to back Egypt’s attacks against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL), which were launched after the jihadist group savagely beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians.
“We aren’t taking a position here in the Pentagon on these recent strikes by Egypt…we weren’t notified ahead of time. We didn’t participate or support them in any way, and we’re not taking a position on it,” said the press secretary in responding.
“We are neither condemning nor condoning” the Egyptian attacks against ISIS, an anonymous Obama administration official told The Daily Beast.
Kirby highlighted rifts in the relationship between the U.S and its longtime ally Egypt, which he called “complicated.”
The strained relations stem from “political developments” in Egypt that the Obama administration deems troubling.
“We view them as a strategic partner…But it’s a complicated relationship,” the spokesman told reporters. “The political developments there in Egypt make it so. And we’re working with the State Department. We’re kind of working our way through that.”
The strained relations between the Obama administration and Egypt can be traced back to the July 2013 overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, amid protests across the nation.
Then-Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led the military removal of Morsi.
El-Sisi became the president a year later, something that is considered undemocratic by some in the Obama administration although he won the leadership post through an election.
Egypt has refused to join the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Instead, the most populous Arab nation has asked the Obama administration for more weapons to fight the jihadist group.
“The Egyptian military, in particular, is very frustrated with us,” an unnamed Obama administration official told The Daily Beast. “It is mutual frustration.”
The tensions between the two nations have escalated in the last 18 months after the Obama administration suspended the sale of certain weapons to Cairo in the wake of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders removal from the presidential office in Egypt.
In response, Egypt has reached out to China and Russia for weapons.
“We still believe that Egypt is an important strategic partner in the region…we also recognize that we have some common interest with Egypt with respect to terrorism, regional stability and including peace with Israel. I mean, Egypt has a huge role to play there,” Kirby told reporters.
“What I can tell you is we are continuing to review the security assistance policy in light of developments – political developments inside Egypt,” he continued. “So we are still holding… on the delivery of several weapon systems, to include the F-16s, the M1A1 tanks and… some other things, like Harpoon missiles. Those are still on hold and there’s been no decision with respect to that.”
“We’re constantly reviewing the relationship with Egypt,” said the Pentagon spokesman.
“The threats we know they face from terrorist networks is real and significant,” Kirby acknowledged. “We understand that. And so to the degree we can work through that with them and assist them with that, like on the Apache helicopters, we’re going to do that. But there are certain items, larger, more conventional items, that are still on hold, given the political developments in there.”
Fox News notes that the U.S. has provided $1.5 billion annually in mostly military aid to Egypt since the Camp David Accords were signed in 1978.
Using U.S.-manufactured F-16 warplanes, Egypt launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Libyan city of Derna in response to a video released by ISIS showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptian workers.
Last December, Gen. David Rodriguez, the head of U.S. Africa Command, warned that ISIS had established training camps in Libya.
U.S. officials are troubled by ISIS’ expansion outside of Iraq and Syria and into Libya and other nations.
Libya has been engulfed in unrest since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011 with the support of the Obama administration. Various tribes, militias, and political groups competing for power in Libya.
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