Wednesday,24 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)
Wednesday,24 April, 2019
Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Sealing porous borders

Speculation that the terrorists involved in Friday’s police ambush in the Western Desert infiltrated Egypt from Libya has thrown the spotlight on border security, reports Kamel Abdallah


Sealing porous borders
Sealing porous borders

The terrorist incident on the Oases Road, the desert backyard of the Giza governorate located 150km south of Cairo, threw into relief the problems engendered by the anarchy and lack of a strong and effective security partner on the Libyan side of the Egyptian-Libyan border. For the past six years Egypt has had to shoulder single-handedly the responsibility of securing the 1,200km long border.

In recent months the army has succeeded in forestalling cross-border infiltrations on many occasions, the most recent being on Monday 23 October when Armed Forces Spokesman Tamer Al-Refaai confirmed that the Air Force had intercepted and destroyed eight vehicles laden with arms, ammunition and explosives.

Al-Refaai noted the successful interception took place in tandem with ongoing operations in mountainous Western Desert areas in pursuit of the terrorists who ambushed the police near Bahareya Road. 

Much of the area adjacent to the Egyptian-Libyan border is occupied by the Great Sand Sea. The most rugged portions are located in the north, along the Salloum plateau, and in the south around the Gabal Al-Uweinat mountain range which occupies the southwestern corner of Egypt, along the borders with Libya and Sudan.

 Most terrorist attempts to infiltrate Egypt from Libya have taken place in these two areas — the majority in the stretch south of the Salloum crossing to Siwa Oasis which lies northwest of Bahareya Oasis, and in an area running from the southwestern corner of Gabal Al-Uweinat to a point parallel with Al-Wadi Al-Gadid. The rugged mountainous terrain along these two stretches compound the challenges facing the Egyptian army in securing the border.

Frequent thefts of anti-personnel mines planted by security forces in order to prevent cross-border movement on the part of illegal migrants, terrorist elements and smugglers make the situation even more difficult.

On 23 October military police in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk announced that they intercepted a truck carrying livestock with bags of explosives hidden beneath the animals.

A Libyan security source told Al-Ahram Weekly that the explosives in question were anti-personnel landmines.

The source added that in spite of the difficulties they face Libyan security forces have intensified their patrols along the border with Egypt, especially after noticing that smuggling activity had intensified further south following the tightening of security around the Emsaed-Salloum crossing.

An already complex situation is becoming more complicated with the growing discord between armed groups that control the Libyan side of the border crossing at Emsaed. On 27 March General Salem Al-Bah, director of the Al-Butnan Customs Directorate, sent a letter to the Libyan authorities noting that the Emsaed gateway, inclusive of the entrance and exit terminals for persons and for trucks bearing goods and products, was now outside the control of Customs and standard inspection measures could no longer be applied.

The area of Al-Butnan extends from Emsaed via Ain Al-Ghazala to the west of Tobruk and on to Jaghbub Oasis in the south. It is sparsely populated and notorious for smuggling. Al-Bah requested military and police help to tighten security and stop smugglers.

The area from Kufra Oasis to the Gabal Al-Uweinat is, as already noted, characterised by mountainous terrain offering terrorists and smugglers plenty of hideaways. Tribal groups, particularly the Tabu and Zaweya tribes, compete for control over the smuggling routes which provide their chief source of income.

It is worth noting that despite the relatively sparse population on the Libyan side of the border there are two population centres, one in the north in Al-Butnan and the other in the Al-Kufra Oasis. Competition between tribal groups over smuggling routes in these areas pose an increasing threat to Egyptian national security given the collapse of the Libyan state and the absence of any effective security arrangements along the Libyan side of the border.

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