Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Stability in North Sinai

Ahmed Eleiba assesses the security situation in North Sinai and military exercises on Egypt’s western border with Libya

North Sinai
North Sinai
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Armed Forces press reports that the military is continuing to target takfiri cells after the end of the first phase of “Martyr’s Right”, an operation described by military analysts as a qualitative leap in the military operations conducted in the Sinai since the campaign against jihadist groups began more than two years ago.

In the framework of the second phase of the operation, an Armed Forces statement announced that it had killed 25 takfiri elements in North Sinai last week. Al-Arish was added to the operations covered in the statement, whereas earlier statements had said the operation was limited to Rafah and Sheikh Zoweid.

It had also been presumed that the Armed Forces’ statements in the second phase would include measures taken to restore stability in the wake of the military operations and the inauguration of a development phase in North Sinai.

In the last Armed Forces press release, it was said that a field hospital belonging to the takfiri groups and an underground command and control centre were destroyed. In addition, last week’s operation saw record quantities of confiscated weapons, munitions and explosive substances seized. This was despite reports that the terrorists have begun distributing such equipment in different hiding places.

A local Sinai source from the Tarabin tribe, who has been following developments in the field, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the intensive drive being carried out by the military and police in North Sinai has largely destroyed the infrastructure of the jihadist militia organisations there.

However, these organisations still have the ability to move around and carry out operations employing the same tactics they have traditionally used, namely planting large quantities of explosives on the side of roads used by the Armed forces, he said.

“There are also the sleeping cells that are difficult to unearth due to the lack of police records on them and because their members are unknown, even among their friends and families. As a result, they are only discovered in the course of security incidents,” the source added.

According to the same source, the tightening net around the takfiri elements in Sheikh Zoweid and Rafah has caused many of them to move to Al-Arish. “As a consequence, security anxieties and tensions have risen in Al-Arish,” he said.

Pointing to the assassination last week of Mustafa Abdel-Rahman, the Al-Nour Party secretary-general for North Sinai, near his home in Al-Arish on Saturday, the source said this “was a message from the organisation that was behind that attack that it will not permit political activity in Sinai. Therefore, I do not expect elections to take place in Al-Arish, Rafah or Sheikh Zoweid.”

He continued, “They might take place in Beir Al-Abd and Ramana, but in the vicinity of Al-Arish up to Rafah they will be difficult. The candidates themselves have even said they will not run in the elections because they have got the message.”

Mohamed Sabri from Sheikh Zoweid, who currently lives in Al-Arish, confirmed the observations. In an interview with the Weekly, he said that the security situation in Al-Arish has become tenser.

“On the surface the city appears stable, but time brings sudden security fluctuations,” Sabri said, relating how he had seen a number of incidents on the Al-Arish highway targeting military transport vehicles.

“The stability is relative, but the military operations are scoring successes,” said Nasser Al-Asi, commander of the Second Field Army, in a press conference with journalists this week. He said that most of the cities of Al-Arish and Rafah now enjoy security, which had not previously been the case, and that life has begun to return to normal in North Sinai.

This “relative stability” has inspired many families that had left the areas where there were intense operations against terrorists to return to their homes, he said. As further evidence of the return to stability and normality, Al-Asi noted that schools, hospitals and electricity stations have begun to provide services once more.

“People are feeling secure. Two years ago, takfiris could drive through the streets of Sinai in four-wheel-drive cars, waving machine guns and black flags. Since the successes we have achieved, they can no longer do that,” he said.

In another military development, the Armed Forces carried out major exercises in the Western Zone at the end of the last week. Attended by senior military commanders, most notably Sedky Sobhy, overall commander of the Armed Forces, the Raad (Thunder) 24 exercise was carried out by one of the Western Zone military units in the framework of the annual plan to improve the Armed Forces’ combat training.

 In a speech, Wahid Ezzat Khafagi, commander of the Western Zone, said that the troops in this zone are “filled with the resolve and determination to sustain the highest levels of combat efficacy and preparedness and to dedicate themselves fully to all the tasks to which they are assigned in order to safeguard Egypt’s western borders and to protect the capacities of the Egyptian people.”

It was clear that as the military leaders watched the units carry out their exercises they had two major considerations in mind. First, although this was the 24th round in the series of Raad (Thunder) exercises that are carried out periodically, there was no doubt that this one was informed by developments related to the western border with Libya.

The border remains one of Egypt’s major security concerns, particularly with respect to Sinai. Weapons and jihadist operatives have been smuggled into Sinai after infiltrating through gaps in the western border.

According to military sources, the military has moved to intensify efforts to close such gaps, deciding to installing advanced border observation towers imported from the US, a project that will take four years and that will involve training the Armed Forces in how to use them.

The second consideration is the need to hone the skills of the country’s special forces in combat activities involving the penetration of enemy forward-defence lines with the support of different air force units for reconnaissance, air cover and combat support for assault forces, and with artillery support to destroy reserves, confuse the enemy, and take out enemy control and command centres.

In this month’s simulations, troops from the artillery and mechanised infantry forces developed such assaults, broke through enemy defences and engaged enemy forces. They were backed by military helicopters and anti-tank missile units that intercepted enemy attacks and prevented the enemy from recovering defence positions at various points along the line.

The exercises were an occasion for all participating troops and branches of the military to display their excellent field and combat skills. They demonstrated their marksmanship in striking both fixed and moving targets and their efficacy and precision in managing combat activities and rapidly executing coordinated combat and artillery tasks at specified times and places.

The various administrative, technical and medical-support teams also demonstrated their efficiency in rapid-performance medical relief and evacuation exercises, opening medical treatment points, bringing in water supplies and fuel and performing other logistical tasks.

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