Sinai insurgency: An enduring risk

Omar Oshour, Al Jazeera, May 04, 2016. 

Cairo’s security
policies in Sinai remain immoral and ineffective – so far
exacerbating the problem.

Force and Observers soldiers] are outgunned by the terrorists [Sinai
Province or SP] right now, and it’s a dangerous mission,” said
retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. “They [SP insurgents]
have mortars and artillery that they have been firing on the base

The statement came after
Defense Secretary Ash Carter formally notified Egypt and Israel that
the United States was considering reconfiguring its mission in Sinai
by increasing reliance on remote sensing technology and therefore was
withdrawing US troops away from the restive North. The reason?

It is Sinai Province. The
organisation gave an oath of loyalty to the so-called Islamic State
of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in November 2014.

“It is a situation
there that has risk,” said Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff
Davis, referring to the Sinaian insurgency. The US saw “the
risk” coming a while ago. 

In 2005, a senior Egyptian security
official in Sinai told
a US official delegation that the “only good Sinaian bedouin is
the dead Sinaian bedouin”.

Cairo’s security

More than a decade ago,
US security officials and other independent security experts warned
that Cairo’s security policies in Sinai are both immoral
and ineffective
more likely to aggravate an existing problem than resolve it. 

The pulling of troops
from the MFO owing to an insurgency is the first development of its
kind since the peacekeepers were deployed in January 1982. 

The MFO is
composed of about 1,700 soldiers and 200 employees from 13 countries,
including 700 Americans. And the risk they face is

SP is the strongest
armed organisation
in Egypt’s modern history, even compared to
the insurgents of the 1950s and the 1990s. 

Like other IS provinces,
SP publishes its military metrics both monthly and annually.

In January-February 2016
(corresponds to the Lunar month of Rabi’ Thani in the 1437 Hijri
year), SP issued its monthly “harvest of military operations”,
declaring the alleged destruction of 25 armoured vehicles (including
tanks, minesweepers, and bulldozers) and the alleged killing of more
than 100 soldiers.

to SP, t
his was done via an overwhelming reliance on
improvised explosive devices, or IEDs (59 percent of the operations),
followed by guerilla attacks (20 percent), and then by snipers (12

The rest of the deaths
were due to close-quarter assassinations of military/security
commanders and informants (9 percent).

Limited targeting?

When it comes to
targeting the MFO, there are some significant nuances that ought to
be highlighted.
Since the brutal
escalation of the military operations in Sinai in September 2013,
about 90 percent of SP attacks targeted state security and military
forces as well as alleged informants and tribesmen working for them.

Attacks on other targets
such as Israel and tourists diminished significantly in quantity, but
not necessity in the level of damage inflicted, as demonstrated by
the case of
Metrojet Airbus

The attacks on the MFO
were also limited. About 10 were recorded since August 2005. 

Six of
them were conducted by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and mines.

In some of these cases,
it was unclear if the MFO was the actual target or not. 

In others, it
was clear. 

In September 2012, armed militants stormed MFO’s North
Camp, destroyed and took away equipment, and exchanged fire with the
Forces, wounding four soldiers.

In June 2015, the
MFO-operated El-Gora airport was attacked with a mortar shell and a
Grad rocket. But compared to the intensity, complexity, and
sustainability of the attacks on the regime’s military, the attacks
on the MFO are relatively of low intensity.

The attacks on the
regime’s forces usually feature sustained shelling, series of
vehicle-born IEDs followed by small commando units cleansing what is
left of the soldiers. 

This has not been SP’s modus operandi when it
came to attacking the MFO.

This is a puzzle per se.
ISIL suffered most of its casualities from US-led bombardment. 

organisation and its predecessors were, and are still, in a brutal
war with the United States in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. 

the organisation’s Egyptian branch does not seem to prioritise
attacking US military personnel, who are based in their main area of
operations (Northeast Sinai).

Recruitment and local

“Locals take refuge
near the MFO North Camp when the army starts its indiscriminate
bombardment. If SP keeps on attacking the MFO, that safe haven will
be gone in no time,” explains a local activist on condition of

By doing that, SP wants
to send a message to local Bedouins: “Unlike the army, we do
care about your safety.”

For recruitment and local
legitimacy, this strategy does not hurt. 

SP still needs to show
loyalty to ISIL by attacking the MFO every now and then.

But, there is more to
this saga. 

Earlier this month, two artillery shells landed in the gym
of the MFO’s North Camp near El-Gora village at around 3am. Another
mortar shell landed a few days later, destroyed a vehicle and injured
a soldier.

The US was able to work
out the coordinates of the source of the shelling and it turned out
to be the positions of the regular army. Apparently, it was “friendly
fire” or a mistake.

But the list of mistakes committed by
trigger-happy, legally immune and highly incompetent military is too

The victims and potential
victims included Mexican
, the passengers
of a British Thomson flight
, and more recently the MFO. This in
addition to thousands of Sinaians, and other Egyptians, whose tragic
deaths rarely make international headlines.