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ALLARD: Obama Apache copter policy flies off the handle

Denying helicopters for Egypt punishes military, helps Muslim Brotherhood

- - Friday, March 14, 2014

"Guns with us now, sir," the crew chief shouted through the headset, pointing as the Apache attack helicopter swung in smoothly to our right.

Above and slightly behind us, the comforting malevolence of the Apache was a tacit warning to any lurking sniper — or drunk villager wielding an AK-47 — as our helicopter formation swooped into the mountains of the Serbian outback.

It was my second day in Bosnia, where the Apache was one of the principal weapons of an armored division charged with enforcing an uneasy peace. The gunship was notorious for both its awesome firepower and precision optics.

When the Serbs were suspected of infiltrating a neutral area, their commanders were given aerial photographs of the offending tanks, shown with pinpoint digital-map data. They were also reminded that the photographs were from Apache gun-camera footage.

The cross hairs superimposed on those tanks were a warning — this time. The Serbs quickly learned their lessons.

So did our allies, who watched closely over the past decade as the Apache tipped the balance in counterinsurgency operations all across Iraq and Afghanistan.

Until last fall, those allies also included Egypt, crossroads of the Middle East and a strategic partner in American security, economic and diplomatic interests throughout the region.

While the Egyptians maintain a powerful air force, the Apache is their weapon of choice for securing the Suez Canal and combating a determined insurgency throughout the Sinai Peninsula.

Sadly, though, the Apaches are now strictly off-limits to the Egyptian military. President Obama was affronted when, last June, 30 million Egyptians rose against the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi.

The Egyptian army, faced with imminent civil war, ousted and imprisoned Mr. Morsi.

Even as Egyptians celebrated and drafted a new constitution, the Obama White House signaled its strong and continuing displeasure. Democracy was legitimate only if blessed by American diplomats, not Egyptian generals.

All U.S. military aid was suspended indefinitely while the American foreign-policy establishment, on cue, promptly threw Egypt under the bus. They were especially aghast at the prospective election of Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, popular hero of the revolution, as the new Egyptian president.

Despite the recent constitutional reforms, The New York Times sniffed that a government of "pharaohs, caliphs and field marshals" would likely rule "with unchecked power in the tradition of Egypt's earliest civilizations."

No one should have been surprised when Gen. el-Sissi showed up in Moscow during the Olympics amid talk of a Russian arms deal.

Meanwhile, the Sinai insurgency was worsening as the Muslim Brotherhood fought to regain their prized Nile foothold of Islamic fundamentalism. Everyone in Washington knew that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo had transmitted an urgent request from the Egyptian military for the immediate release of 10 Apache helicopters being held hostage under the White House arms embargo.

Were the Egyptians really signaling that they didn't want to be tossed into the Russian briar patch?

Gen. Lloyd Austin is the tough-as-nails chief of the U.S. Central Command, whose responsibilities include Egypt. When he recently testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, it led to the following exchange:

Sen. James M. Inhofe: "From a military perspective would the resumption of the delivery of the Apache helicopters assist the Egyptians in their efforts to fight terrorists?"

Gen. Austin: "First, sir, I'll say that I support the president's policy. But from a military perspective, just looking at what the Egyptians have done in the Sinai, and the equipment that they are using — the Apache has been very instrumental in their efforts there."

While fighting Iraqi insurgents, Gen. Austin was as likely to wade into the fray with his rifle blazing as to call in fire support. He well understands combat, the Apache's importance and our long-standing partnership with the Egyptian military. (Gen. el-Sissi is a U.S. Army War College graduate).

However, Gen. Austin also understands the delicacy required of any serving officer when you're right and your boss is dead wrong — hence the careful parsing of his answer to the Senate.

All in vain. As Bill Gertz reported in The Washington Free Beacon recently, unnamed administration officials announced that the 10 Apache hostages will not be released anytime soon — if ever.

It is hard to know who to blame. Can the State Department not read a map, or is the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood even stronger in the Obama White House than in the Sinai Peninsula?

One suspects that National Security Adviser Susan Rice may soon be chalking up another in her already impressive legacy of disasters.

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel, is a military analyst and author on national security issues.