Saturday,16 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)
Saturday,16 February, 2019
Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A legendary battalion

In Arish Ahmed Eleiba listens to stories of the heroism of Special Forces Battalion 103


A legendary battalion
A legendary battalion

Al-Ahram Weekly spent an afternoon at the training camp of Battalion 103, where soldiers get on with their exercises immediately after returning from raids. Often they embark on another raid without rest or a meal and the soldiers compete to be selected for missions.

“The heroes here have pledged to continue what their predecessors — martyrs such as Major Ahmed Al-Mansi and Major Rami Hassanein — began. What we have learned in the army is that we are a cog within the system which protects our country,” the battalion commander told the Weekly.

“We are a special case for many reasons. We don’t differentiate between officers and soldiers. We share battles, sacrifices and food equally. I came here following the death of majors Al-Mansi and Rami. They are big names around here. I learned all about the battalion’s previous missions.”

“During my career with the Special Forces I became familiar with the motto ‘comrades-in-arms, brave and strong together’ but it was only when I arrived at Battalion 103 that I understood what it really meant.”

“I can’t describe the heroes who surround me. We were once on a mission for four days in the mountains. Sometimes I had to order them to sleep only to find a soldier resting his head on his weapon, as if he was ready for combat, without going into sleep.”

There are many stories of heroism in Battalion 103. One fighter cancelled his leave in order not to miss a raid, another replaced his name with that of a comrade to join an operation.

Speaking of the battalion’s missions the commander said: “There are only headlines, no details, because every mission creates its own specific circumstances.”

The headline may be battling takfiri groups, but each encounter is atypical. The battalion closely maps the locations of takfiri groups, many of which operate in the area. In terms of organisation they may be close but they are poles apart ideologically.

“The discord between them works to our advantage though we do not care about their ideological differences. We deal with them as a single enemy.”

“We have eyes within the takfiri groups, be they soldiers on covert operations or takfiri elements who secretly cooperate with our forces. We carry out a raid only after confirming the information from more than one source,” says the commander.

“Takfiri groups often try to lure our forces. We know how they think and are always two steps ahead. Takfiris, whose creed is intimidation, do not want to engage us in combat. They plant bombs and use snipers. We have learned a lot from the videos we found in their camps. We also coordinate with other troops who provide us with information and sometimes join us on missions. We help each other in achieving our joint goal which is to root out terrorism.”

Takfiri groups constantly change their tactics. It is imperative to remain updated on their strategies and act accordingly.

“We are familiar with our enemy’s modus operandi. Often they set up a trap and try to lure us but we have already spotted their look outs, dealt with them and replaced them with our own.”

The commander stresses the significance of Comprehensive Operation Sinai (COS) 2018’s success in weakening the logistical networks of the takfiri groups. Their supply lines have been cut, two thirds of their logistical infrastructure depleted and various groups separated from one another.

“The logistical siege has exacerbated the differences among takfiri groups over new tactics. Some of them retreat before engaging. They have become weak and cowardly which is how we know our strategy is bearing fruit,” he says.

“Before launching COS 2018, during operations such as The Martyr’s Right, we would arrest terrorists and find they were carrying millions of dollars to buy weapons and recruit people. They would recruit informants with money, or even sex. All this is under our control now.”

But isn’t it possible that the battalion’s own informants within the takfiri groups are acting as double agents, providing false information?

“Many people in Sinai want to get rid of the takfiris,” says the commander. “Through experience and information gathering we can identify who is who and whether the volunteer is serious about cooperating with us.”

The commander was keen to convey three messages. The first is to the martyred of Battalion 103 who have died in battle. “We will continue your mission and we derive our strength from you,” he said.

The second message is to civilians beyond the battlefield whom he tells: “Be positive, we are part of you and you are part of us. You are our people and we are your army. We perform our duty confidently and honestly.”

The third message is addressed to the terrorist enemy: “I warn them, we will not allow you to ruin our land. We will root you out and cleanse Egypt of your evil.”

“The Armed Forces will rid Sinai of terrorism. Our men have raised the motto of sacrifice and glory,” were the commander’s last words to the Weekly.

One of the soldiers told the Weekly he was proud to take part in COS 2018. “I don’t want my service to end before avenging my martyred comrades. Every time I remember what happened my desire to avenge them is renewed.”

Another soldier said “we have forgotten what fear is.”

In tears a third soldier related that he took part in five missions with Major Al-Mansi.

“Everyone we lost has a story, and we know all the stories. They all left us with a determination to sacrifice our lives for Egypt if need be. Our new commanders are keeping the pledge their martyred predecessors took.”

In the camp there is a board on which are pinned photographs of all the battalion’s martyrs. They are saluted by each soldier as they depart for a mission.

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