Report: ISIS threat spurs US to weigh pull of troops in Sinai

According to CNN, the Obama administration is examining the relocation of US and international peacekeeping forces from a base in the volatile northern Sinai to areas in the peninsula's south.

By JPOST.COM STAFF
April 6, 2016 09:09
2 minute read.
Sinai province

Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province fighters in the Sinai Peninsula. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ARAB MEDIA)

 
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The growing threat of Islamic State and other jihadists in Egypt has in part spurred the US government to consider pulling its forces from a base in the Sinai Peninsula, CNN reported late Tuesday.

According to the report, the Obama administration is examining the relocation of US and international peacekeeping troops from a base in the volatile northern Sinai to areas in the peninsula's south. About 700 American forces are reportedly involved in the maneuver that Washington is contemplating.

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The Sinai region has faced an insurgency of Islamist militants since the overthrow of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The United States now sees the threat of attacks by ISIS-linked groups and Islamist militants as escalating in the northern Sinai region which borders with Israel, CNN cited defense officials as saying.

Washington is reportedly in talks with Israel and Egypt regarding the possible shift of the US-led peacekeepers take make up  the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), who oversee the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between the neighboring nations.

The officials who spoke to CNN added that the potential move would not constitute a US retreat due to the threat posed by ISIS, stressing that the US would still be able to fulfill the terms of its duties under the peace treaty.

"The (Pentagon) supports the role being played by the Multinational Force and Observers in supporting the Treaty of Peace between Israel and Egypt," CNN quoted US Defense Department spokesman Christopher Sherwood as saying in a statement. "We are in continuous contact with the MFO and adjust force protection capabilities as conditions warrant."

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CNN noted that there has been no public comment so far by the governments in Cairo or Jerusalem and that any significant re-positioning of the likes would need approval from all signatories of the Egypt-Israel peace accord.

Officials cited in the report mentioned that improved defense technology is another factor catalyzing the transfer in question.

The defense officials also noted that the peacekeeper's responsibility of monitoring movements in Sinai could increasingly be done using what the report called "unmanned remote sensing technology."

In November 2015, calls to scale back the MFO were rebuffed by Egypt and Israel, after some of the peacekeeping body's 12 contributor countries had been considering changes to its deployment and mandate.

Worry about the safety of the almost 1,900 peacekeepers hiked after six were wounded in September by a roadside bomb.

Cairo sees the MFO as part of a relationship with Israel that, while unpopular with many Egyptians, brings them $1.3 billion in annual US defense aid, sweetening the foreign-enforced demilitarization of their sovereign Sinai territory.

For the Israel, the MFO offers strategic reassurance, recalling that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled an elected Islamist regime hostile to the Jewish state next door.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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