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US Reviewing Troop Presence in Sinai amid Increasing ISIS Threats

Bedouin protesters raise Al-Qaeda-affiliated flags on a watch tower of a Multinational Force and Observers base in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. AFP/File
Bedouin protesters raise Al-Qaeda-affiliated flags on a watch tower of a Multinational Force and Observers base in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. AFP/File

The U.S. has been conducting a review of the operations of the 700 U.S. troops participating in the Sinai peacekeeping mission that could potentially lead to partial troop withdrawals, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

"I don't think anyone's talking about a (complete) withdrawal. I think we're just going to look at the number of people we have there and see if there are functions that can be automated or done through remote monitoring," said Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Davis also confirmed that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had notified the governments of Israel and Egypt that the U.S. might seek adjustments in operations that could result in moving U.S. troops in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt to locations where they would face less risk.

Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, called the U.S. review part of an ongoing effort "to look at how to modernize the observer mission by using technology or improving efficiency.

"Whether and how significant a force reduction that will entail I can't speak to at this point in time," Toner said. However, "In no way does it speak to a lessening in our commitment to the objective" of the peacekeeping force, he said, the Associated Press reported.

Last September, four U.S. troops and two Fijians were wounded when their Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device that groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, claimed to have planted.

Spokesmen for the peacekeeping force said at the time that the wounds were not life-threatening. The U.S. deployed an additional 100 troops to the Sinai for force protection.

Last month, 15 members of the Egyptian security forces were killed in a mortar and small arms attack claimed by Wilayat Sinai, a tribal group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS. The attack occurred near al-Arish in northern Sinai and the largest town on the peninsula.

Since 2013, when ISIS militants first emerged in the Sinai, Egyptian security forces are believed to have suffered hundreds of casualties in northern Sinai. One of the options under consideration in the U.S. review could have U.S. troops move from northern to southern Sinai.

The Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping force was formed in the 1980s to support the 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

The U.S. has contributed troops to the MFO since its formation and has the largest contingent in the peacekeeping force that numbers about 1,600. Eleven other nations have sent troops to the MFO -- Australia, Canada, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Fiji, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Britain and Uruguay.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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