GAO report on military aid to Egypt

The slow crusade in the US Congress to cut down on military aid to Egypt went a step further yesterday with the publication of a report, requested by leading anti-Egypt congressman Tom Lantos, on the effectiveness of the aid program. Haaretz reports:

The study was requested by Rep. Tom Lantos, senior member of the opposition Democrats on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee.

Lantos said in statement the study proves his long-held belief that the "Egypt program is meant more as a political entitlement program, with no real performance standards."

"For all of the $34 billion that U.S. taxpayers have spent on this program over two decades, it is clearly not a serious effort to enhance the military capabilities of an ally to better participate with U.S. forces in joint actions," he said.

"This is a massive military entitlement program on autopilot."
The study, which can be downloaded in PDF here, concludes:

For the past 27 years, the United States has provided Egypt with more than $34 billion in FMF assistance to support U.S. strategic goals in the Middle East. Most of the FMF assistance has been in the form of cash grants that Egypt has used to purchase U.S. military goods and services. Like Israel, and unlike all other recipients of U.S. FMF assistance, Egypt can use the prospects of future congressional appropriations to contract for defense goods and services that it wants to procure in a given year through the FMF program. Until 1998, DSCA limited the number of new commitments to less than the annual appropriation thereby allowing more than $2 billion in undisbursed funds to accumulate. If the plan to eliminate the undisbursed funds for the Egypt FMF program is realized, these funds will be depleted by the end of fiscal year 2007. As Congress debates the appropriate mix between military and economic assistance to Egypt, the inherent risks of such flexible financing warrant careful attention and assessment by State and DOD.

Similarly, both State and DOD could do a better job assessing and documenting the achievement of goals as a result of the $34 billion in past U.S. FMF assistance and the $1.3 billion in annual appropriations planned to be requested. Periodic program assessments that are documented and based on established benchmarks and targets for goals would help Congress and key decision makers make informed decisions. We agree that expedited transit in the Suez Canal; support for humanitarian efforts in Darfur, Sudan, and elsewhere; and continuing offers to train Iraqi security forces are important benefits that the United States derives from its strategic relationship with Egypt. However, without a common definition of interoperability for systems, units, or forces, it is difficult to measure the extent of current and desired levels of interoperability, nor is it clear how the Egyptian military has been or could be transformed into the modern, interoperable force articulated in the U.S. goals for the Egypt FMF program.
The report also cites some forms of Egyptian payback for the aid:

Egyptian and U.S. officials cited several examples of Egypt’s support for U.S. goals. For example, Egypt:

• deployed about 800 military personnel to the Darfur region of the Sudan in 2004;
• trained 250 Iraqi police and 25 Iraqi diplomats in 2004;
• deployed a military hospital and medical staff to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, where nearly 100,000 patients received treatment;
• provided over-flight permission to 36,553 U.S. military aircraft through Egyptian airspace from 2001 to 2005; and
• granted expedited transit of 861 U.S. naval ships through the Suez Canal during the same period and provided all security support for those ship transits.
36,553 flight sorties between 2001 and 2005? That sure seems like a lot for a country that officially is not providing logistical aid to US forces in Iraq.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.