The U.S. military has repositioned a group of crisis response units off the coast of Egypt as the local political crisis continues to seethe, and pro-administration groups plan new support rallies on Friday.
The USS San Antonio bearing the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is one of three ships that has moved into the northern Red Sea. It can respond to a series of potential missions, including rescues within Egypt or delivering supplies, or more drastic contingencies such as securing the nearby Suez Canal.
The 2,200-strong force with its own aircraft and logistics has more resources for this kind of response than the 500 Marines stationed in Spain and Italy as a part of a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, designed to act on a Benghazi-like situation.
"Egypt is [in] a crisis right now," said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos at the D.C.-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday.
"When that happens, what we owe the senior leadership of our nation are some options," he said, according to Reuters. The USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, and the USS Carter Hall, a landing ship, are also a part of the group.
Washington officials have distanced themselves from the ongoing crisis in Egypt since July 3, when the military forced President Mohamed Morsi from power. The White House has not yet declared the event a "coup," which would preclude the U.S. from continuing formal relations with the country, including the more than $1 billion it provides in aid.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has introduced legislation to cut off this aid.
"We must stop sending aid to Egypt," he tweeted on Thursday.
"The overthrow of the Egyptian government was a coup d'état, and the law is clear that when a coup takes place, foreign aid must stop," Paul added in a written statement.
"It is our view that we should not immediately suspend or change our assistance program to Egypt," White House spokesman Jay Carney responded on Thursday. "We are reviewing our obligations under the law, and reviewing them with an eye towards our national security interests and with an eye towards our objective here, which is to do everything we can to assist the Egyptian people in their transition to democracy and their transition, we hope, to a democratically elected civilian government."
Hagel has played a key role in communications between the U.S. and his Egyptian counterparts. He spoke with Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi early Thursday, his ninth phone call since July 2.
Military officials have installed Adly Mansour, a former judge with the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, as the interim leader until new elections can be held.
"We are dealing with a number of leaders in the transitional government," said Carney. "The only way this is going to work successfully for the Egyptian people is if all parties are encouraged and allowed to participate."
The situation in Egypt remains tense more than a week after the president's ouster and dozens of deaths from violent clashes. A security official was fatally attacked at a police checkpoint on the Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian officials said. Officials believe the strike was conducted by Islamic extremists who fired a rocket propelled grenade at an armored vehicle.
Supporters of Morsi planned renewed protests on Friday. The Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi's conservative Islamist political party, last week called on supporters to begin a "Friday of Rage," against political opponents. Thousands gathered in the eastern sections of the city to call for his reinstatement, the BBC reported, as Egyptians throughout the country celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, which began on Monday.