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4 US Troops, 2 Other Peacekeepers Hurt in IED Blasts in Sinai

In this July 2, 2015, file photo, an Egyptian armored vehicle patrols next to a military watch tower on the Egyptian side of the border, seen from the south of the Gaza Strip.  (Adel Hana/AP Photo, File)
In this July 2, 2015, file photo, an Egyptian armored vehicle patrols next to a military watch tower on the Egyptian side of the border, seen from the south of the Gaza Strip. (Adel Hana/AP Photo, File)

Four U.S. servicemembers and two other peacekeepers with the Multinational Force and Observers mission in Northeast Sinai in Egypt were injured by two improvised explosives Thursday, the Defense Department confirmed.

The wounded were evacuated by air to a medical facility and were being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement.

The peacekeepers were patrolling near the town of El Gorah when hit by the explosives, according to an Associated Press report that cited an unnamed MFO official. Two of the peacekeepers were Fijian.

The Multinational Force and Observers is a 12-nation mission to support the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The U.S. began deploying troops for the mission in 1982. In January, the Texas Army National Guard's 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry Regiment, began a 12-month deployment as the infantry battalion dubbed Task Force Stallion.

The lightly armed MFO force mans observation posts and makes regular patrols to verify treaty compliance. Yet recent violence on the peninsula has sparked concerns about the safety of the peacekeepers, who are not equipped for combat operations.

According to the AP report, the vehicles used for the patrol were similar to  Egyptian army vehicles but were painted white. Insurgents have targeted Egyptian forces in Sinai since the ouster of the elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. Militants claiming affiliation with the Islamic State group have also been active in the region over the past year. 

The Department of Defense has been conducting a review of its presence on the peninsula, media reports said last month. 

"The safety and security of U.S. forces remains our top priority and we are committed to taking necessary steps for their protection," Davis said.

About 700 active-duty soldiers and Guardsmen are deployed to the Sinai as the American contribution, known as Task Force Sinai. The force is divided into three small contingents: an infantry battalion of roughly 425 troops, a small support battalion of about 225 troops and a headquarters contingent of about 40 positions.

The infantry battalion is responsible for the southeastern sector of the peninsula, a narrow strip that runs along the Israeli border and the Red Sea and includes the port of Sharm el-Sheikh. The U.S. support battalion, which includes aviation, explosive ordnance disposal and medical task forces, provides logistical support across the MFO mission, according to the organization website.

Israel and Egypt fought four full-scale wars between 1948 and 1979, with much of the action in the last three centered on the Sinai Peninsula. Under the 1979 peace treaty, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt, which in turn agreed to leave it largely demilitarized.

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