Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Securing the western border

What is the significance of last week’s military cooperation agreement with Libya? Amirah Ibrahim reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week’s visit to Egypt by Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni concluded with the signing of a military cooperation agreement.

Al-Thinni met with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and, at the Defence Ministry’s headquarters, with Minister of Defence Sidki Sobhi.

A series of meetings also took place between intelligence and military officials from both sides to discuss ways of controlling the border and coordinate efforts to combat the spread of militant armed groups. 

Al-Thinni was welcomed to the Defence Ministry by senior military commanders, including Chief of Staff General Mahmoud Hegazi and the heads of the various branches of the Armed Forces. 

“Securing the borders and arrangements to fight terrorism came on top of the agenda”, said army spokesman Mohamed Samir. “During the meeting both sides exchanged views on ongoing events in the region, challenges, developments and their impact on stability and security in the Middle East.”

Sobhi underlined the long history of ties between the people of Libya and Egypt. “ We — the Egyptian military — are seriously concerned to support and fully boost the Libyan army,” he said.

No details were published following the security meeting but Al-Thinni later revealed, during a joint press conference with Mehleb, that under an agreement signed with the Egyptian government the Egyptian army would run training programmes for Libyan security personnel, including army and police units charged with combatting terrorism.  

News of the agreement provoked speculation over whether the army was planning to intervene on the ground in the armed struggle taking place in Libya.  

Since 2011 Libya has conspicuously failed to disarm the militias that have proliferated across its territory, or build a security force capable of doing so. The situation worsened in August when an armed opposition group from the western city of Misrata seized the capital Tripoli, forcing senior officials and the elected parliament to retreat to Tobruk.

Members of the Libyan delegation to Egypt say the military agreement includes boosting combat skills for the Libyan army’s special forces units.

“It also covers the rehabilitation of intelligence and security bodies in a way that enables them to confront extreme groups,” said one Libyan official who asked for anonymity. 

As Al-Thinni returned to Libya, Egyptian border guards troops were involved in a shootout with militants south east of Al-Wahat Al-Bahariya, 100 km from the border with Libya. Four extremists were killed and three injured. The vehicles they were driving were packed with bomb making materials.

Is there any likelihood that Egypt will become involved in ground operations on the Libyan side of the border?

The answer, says retired General Mahmoud Khallaf, a strategic consultant at Nasser’s Higher Military Academy, is a “big no”.

“The situation on the ground will not allow for such intervention, even by NATO which launched aerial strikes and is responsible for the crisis from the beginning.”

“Egypt’s military does not contribute to armed struggles and its political leadership has made it clear that Egyptian soldiers will only fight beyond the borders under the UN umbrella. Otherwise we would have agreed to send troops to fight under the US-led alliance in Iraq,” says Khallaf.

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