Egypt launches massive security operation against militants

An image grab taken from a handout video released by the Egyptian Defence Ministry on February 9, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Egypt launches massive security operation against militants

EL-ARISH, Egypt: Egypt began a massive security operation Friday involving land, sea and air forces in areas including the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, the epicenter of an Islamic insurgency spearheaded by a local affiliate of Daesh.
The operation, announced in a televised statement by army spokesman Col. Tamer El-Rifaai, began early Friday and covers central Sinai and areas in Egypt’s Nile Delta and Western Desert. He said the operation is targeting “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations.” There was no indication how long the operation would last.
In a subsequent statement, El-Rifaai said the air force carried out airstrikes on militant hideouts in north and central Sinai. He added that naval forces were deployed to cut off their supply lines and that security has been boosted around the country’s border crossings, shipping routes and vital facilities.
Security officials said the forces killed at least 20 militants in the north Sinai town of Bir Al-Abd. They added that militants are also being targeted south and west of the town of Rafah, on the border with the Gaza strip. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The operation began amid local media reports of heightened alert levels in north Sinai hospitals and in other neighboring provinces in anticipation of casualties. Local gas stations and shops were also ordered shut.
The military campaign comes ahead of the presidential election in March in which President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is running for a second four-year term with no serious contenders. El-Sisi was elected in 2014 in a landslide with promises of restoring security.
Egypt has for years been struggling to contain an Islamic insurgency in the turbulent Sinai region. It has carried out military operations there that, it says, have killed hundreds of militants and soldiers over the years. Egypt also built a buffer zone along the border with Gaza to curb the flow of militants and weapons through a vast tunnel network under the border. The insurgency, nevertheless, shows no signs of abating.
In November, militants killed 311 worshippers in a mosque attack in the region, the deadliest in Egypt’s modern history. Shortly afterward, El-Sisi gave security forces a three-month deadline to restore stability to northern Sinai and authorized his chief of staff to use “all brute force.”
Later, militants fired a projectile at El-Arish airport and struck an Apache helicopter that was part of the entourage of Egypt’s defense and interior ministers who were in the city on an unannounced visit on Dec. 19. Neither minister was in the aircraft when the attack took place but the missile killed an officer and wounded two others. Egypt is currently building a buffer zone around the airport.
Militant attacks have generally surged since the 2013 military ouster of elected President Muhammad Mursi following mass protests against his divisive one-year rule. The violence has been concentrated in northern Sinai Peninsula but has also spread to the mainland.
Egypt is also facing a growing number of attacks in its Western Desert along the porous border with Libya that has been the source of serious concern to authorities who contend Islamic militants and smugglers use it as their route into the country.
Egypt has been under a state of emergency after suicide bombings struck two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday last year in an attack that was claimed by the Egyptian affiliate of Daesh.


US envoy: Fight against Daesh in last Syria stronghold may end soon

Updated 15 November 2018
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US envoy: Fight against Daesh in last Syria stronghold may end soon

  • James Jeffrey: Washington keen to establish constitutional committee by end of the year

WASHINGTON: The administration of US President Donald Trump hopes that the US-backed fight against Daesh in its last foothold in northeastern Syria will end within months but American forces will remain to ensure the “enduring defeat” of the militant group, a top US diplomat said on Wednesday.

Ambassador James Jeffrey, the US special representative for Syrian engagement, said the US believes the way forward in Syria includes defeating Daesh, reinvigorating the political process and winding down the long-running civil war.

Toward that end, he said, the US hopes to see the formation of a committee before the end of the year to work on a new constitution for Syria as agreed by the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Turkey during their meeting in Istanbul in October.

He said US forces would remain in place after the coalition forces prevail over Daesh military units to ensure the group does not “regenerate itself.”

“The enduring defeat means not simply smashing the last of Daesh’s (Daesh) conventional military units holding terrain, but ensuring that Daesh doesn’t immediately come back in sleeper cells, come back as an insurgent movement,” Jeffrey said.

Washington also wants the withdrawal of Iranian military forces from Syria once the underlying causes of the conflict have been resolved, he said, noting that Iran’s continued military presence would represent a threat to US partners in the region.

Jeffrey said the final ground combat is along the Euphrates River and is being led by Syrian Democratic Forces assisted by US military personnel.

“The fight is continuing and we hope that it will be over in a few months and that will be the last of Daesh’s terrain that it holds in a quasi-conventional way,” he said.

Jeffrey said convening a committee under UN auspices to begin work on a new Syrian constitution was a “critical step” toward advancing the political process. 

He said the US would hold Russia to account to use its influence to bring the regime of its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, to the negotiating table.

“Our goal, which again was supported by Russia, France, Germany and Turkey and agreed in the Oct. 27 Istanbul communique, is to establish this constitutional committee by the end of the year,” he said.

Jeffrey said getting Iranian forces out of Syria, where they back Assad’s rule, was not a US military goal but should be an outcome of the process to end the civil war and the only way to achieve lasting peace.

He said newly reinstated US sanctions against Iran would encourage Tehran to scale back its presence in Syria.