Troops Prepare to Keep Steady Peace in Sinai

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EDINBURGH, Ind. -- Current tensions and upheavals, in the Middle East and northern Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring movements, have changed the calculus of international relations and policy for the region. In the midst of this change, it's easy to forget that peace has existed between Israel and Egypt for more than 30 years. One of the tools of that peace is the Multinational Force Observer organization.

Soldiers of the 5th Battalion, 113th Field Artillery, are deploying to the Sinai Peninsula for a year as Multinational Force Observers or MFO. Their mission is to enforce the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty signed in 1979.

Unlike most peacekeeping missions America is involved in, the MFO does not operate under a United Nations or NATO mandate, said Lt. Col. Jack Midyette, of Wake Forest, N.C., commander of the 5th Battalion, 113th Field Artillery, North Carolina Army National Guard.

"The MFO is a civilian organization headquartered in Rome with two field offices, one in Tel Aviv and the other in Cairo. It morphed out of the peace treaty when the U.N. said it would not be able to send peacekeepers.

The countries knew something had to be put in place," said Midyette. "So the three countries, Egypt, Israel and the U.S. opened negations with other countries and put together a peacekeeping force outside of the U.N."

The area the MFO will be deployed to is Zone C, which runs from the Mediterranean Sea along the eastern Sinai Peninsula to the Gulf of Aqaba and Red Sea on Egypt's border with Israel and water borders with Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The Soldiers of 5th Battalion, 113th Field Artillery, are assigned to South Camp and will operate within the southern sector of Zone C. Eleven other countries contribute to the MFO: Australia, Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, Fiji, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Norway and Uruguay, which provide different functions for the force. Columbia and Fiji, like the U.S., provide a battalion each.

Midyette said that according to the treaty, only specific types of military build-up can occur in the various zones of the Sinai, for example, in Zone C, only the MFO and Egyptian civilian police can operate.

"We are there to observe and report accurately and objectively," said Midyette. "The two countries talk to each other."

Midyette said the training his battalion received at Camp Atterbury has prepared them for the deployment and its unique mission. He also said that the First Army Division East trainers developed a different training concept for the MFO.

"We've had 30 days of focused training," said Midyette. "Camp Atterbury did a good job at replicating the environment we will be operating in. They constructed small outposts that are indicative of observation points that they will be operating in the Sinai. They have been going through mission-built operations and the training accurately reflects the mission.

We've also had personnel from the unit we're replacing here to advise us what they were seeing and encountering in the area."

Capt. Michael Amoroso, of Charlotte, N.C., current operations officer with 5th Battalion, 113th Field Artillery, said the training provided for the MFO was outstanding.

"Camp Atterbury is the Army's best kept secret," said Amoroso. "The post is very accommodating and has great facilities. Working with our First Army trainers here, as well as the folks we're replacing, we're really appreciative of the training. While there are some things we can't replicate being in country versus being here, we're making the best of it. We're gleaning the lessons that we need to be prepared," said Amoroso.

Amoroso said that despite the escalation of tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, the MFO mission will continue.

"It's outside of our purview; we are not there to engage in direct arms combat, that's not our mission. The real impact is Egypt is being called upon to help negotiate a peace. I think that is a really good sign about how far these two countries have come in 30 years. It gives us confidence that we're going in there under the right pretenses."

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