Saturday,22 July, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)
Saturday,22 July, 2017
Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Counter-insurgency operations make gains in Sinai

Al-Ahram Weekly speaks with the commander of the Third Field Army about the purge of terrorists in the Gabal Al-Halal area

 Gabal Al-Halal
Gabal Al-Halal

In a recent press conference to which a number of newspapers were invited, Major General Mohamed Raafat, commander of the Third Field Army, discussed efforts to purge the Gabal Al-Halal area in Sinai of terrorist groups. The plan entails several phases, beginning with information-gathering during which reconnaissance and intelligence teams conduct a comprehensive survey of the area. These expert teams provide the intelligence on which subsequent strategies are devised.

 Gradual encirclement follows. The blockade is enforced by nine task forces, each with its own commander. The mountain is divided into nine sections, each assigned to a task force.

“We began the siege and encirclement operation, including access routes to the area, on 12 February. It continued for six days. The terrorists reacted with booby-trapped vehicles and then motorcycles. When they could not find vehicles they would detonate mobile telephones. They also set up camouflaged snares in the area in an attempt to prevent our troops from advancing. But our heroic soldiers are trained in handling such obstacles and specialised teams cleared them from one location to the next.”  

The next stage was to close in. The nine units moved deeper into the mountain, combing the areas allocated to them and advancing towards the terrorist hideouts. During the combing operation, which continued despite poor weather and often sub-zero temperatures, the army uncovered locations where the land cruisers and Toyotas used by the terrorists were hidden. They included models from 2016 and 2017. The vehicles were destroyed alongside the motorcycles used by the terrorists to travel narrow mountain paths. Storehouses containing spare parts and workshops where the vehicles were maintained were also found and destroyed.

The army found 14 caves used as hideouts and arms and ammunitions stores.

“In the mountain passages we found huge quantities of material used in the manufacturing of IEDs. We discovered aluminium nitrate, C-4, explosive circuits as well as mine detection devices.” The latter, said Raafat, are important because different takfiris might plant mines and not be able to inform their fellow terrorists. He added that some of the vehicles discovered were already booby-trapped and set to detonate. Intercepted messages between terrorist operatives included requests for explosives and other supplies.

Raafat reported that when the Third Field Army attacked the terrorists attempted to flee. The severing of their supply lines during the first stage of the siege left many with no ammunition. Some simply abandoned their weapons as they tried to escape. Eighteen takfiris were killed in the clashes and 32 arrested.  

Raafat then turned to evidence of the financing of terrorist operations uncovered during the operations. Tons of illegal drugs were uncovered, together with areas in the mountain given over to the cultivation of marijuana and opium poppies. The proceeds from the sale of hashish, and of opium to be refined into heroin, represent a major source of funding, he said.  

Raafat ended his presentation by praising the fighting spirit of the soldiers on the front lines of the war against terrorism. He recounted many incidents of personal bravery on the part of his troops.  

“When we reached the summit, the joy of our heroes was overwhelming,” he said. “Nothing in the world compares to the Egyptian fighter. One of our heroes received a wound in the arm but he continued in the pursuit of the terrorists. He was cautioned against this but was determined to continue. Another soldier was lying on the ground after being shot. In spite of his commanding officer’s pleas he refused to be evacuated. I went to speak with him. He told me that he would continue the fight even if he had to crawl. That is the Egyptian soldier. He has a creed and it is based on his love for his country. When going on a mission, he is prepared to die and he is happy. When we select soldiers for a mission, others are sad at being left out. They all want to take part in this fight to cleanse Sinai of terrorism because they feel that this is what they owe their country. The bravery of the Egyptian soldiers who crossed the Bar Lev line carrying 60 kg loads on their back is alive today among the heroes fighting in Sinai. We are pressing ahead in our drive to cleanse the rest of the entire peninsula of terrorists, in cooperation with the Second Army. We are prepared to die for this cause. The commander of the Third Army, himself, is willing to offer his own life so that Egypt can remain strong and proud, because our country deserves the sacrifices we make on its behalf.”

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