President Barack Obama has decided to halt the planned delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, amid the unrest that erupted after the military ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president.
The move came two weeks after Reuters reported U.S. plans to go ahead with the delivery of the F-16s, and shows how the United States is struggling to respond to the removal of President Mohamed Mursi and an ensuing surge in violence.
Pentagon spokesman George Little declined to specify precisely what triggered the reversal but acknowledged what he referred to as the “fluid situation” on the ground.
“Given the current situation in Egypt, we do not believe it is appropriate to move forward at this time with the delivery of F-16s,” Little said, adding that Obama’s decision was made with the unanimous consent of his entire national security team.
Still, the Pentagon said it did not believe it was in the best interests of the United States to suspend overall military assistance to Egypt, which totals about $1.3 billion a year.
Little said this year’s Bright Star military exercise with Egypt would go ahead as planned, for example.
Washington has been treading a careful line since Mursi’s ouster, neither welcoming it nor denouncing it as a “coup,” saying it needs time to weigh the situation.
A U.S. government decision to call it a coup would, by law, cut off U.S. assistance to Egypt.
The Pentagon said the White House and the State Department were still conducting a review into how to define Mursi’s removal.
“I would caution against premature conclusions with respect to that (review) process of determining whether or not there was a coup,” Little said.
“This was a decision made about the F-16s and doesn’t necessarily reflect what the outcome will be in that process.”
Egypt’s military chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, called for mass rallies on Friday to give him a mandate to tackle the unrest.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Sisi on Wednesday to inform him of the decision to delay the delivery of the jets, which are part of America’s $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt and are built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
They also discussed Sisi’s call for rallies, Little said.