Securing the Sinai Multinational Force without a U.S. Drawdown

(Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Eric Trager - In the wake of a June 9 jihadist rocket attack on the Multinational Force of Observers (MFO) and other dangerous incidents, the U.S. government is reviewing the future of its military deployment in the Sinai Peninsula. Some U.S. officials believe it might only be a matter of time before Wilayat Sinai (formerly Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) - a jihadist faction that declared itself a "province" of the Islamic State - executes a major attack on the MFO. Cairo's outdated approach to fighting the Sinai jihadists has exacerbated these concerns. Two years into its current operation, the Egyptian military still relies on tactics suitable to conventional combat rather than to a counterinsurgency campaign. According to U.S. officials, the military has alienated the local population by entering villages in large formations, targeted the enemy imprecisely by relying on standoff firepower (artillery and airstrikes), and failed to support its special forces operations with targeted intelligence. Whenever MFO units have faced potential attacks, the Egyptian military has not moved out of its hardened positions to engage Wilayat Sinai, leading U.S. officials to question whether Cairo is merely trying to contain rather than defeat the jihadists. In the meantime, Washington and the MFO have hardened the MFO's positions and focused on force protection. Improved sensors and barriers as well as additional guard towers have been erected around MFO outposts over the past two years, and peacekeepers have received weapons upgrades in recent weeks. Washington is deliberating closing isolated manned outposts and replacing them with mobile surveillance. If the administration is serious about altering the U.S. MFO deployment, it should coordinate these changes with Egypt and Israel to show that it is fully engaged with its allies in pursuit of mutual interests. Unilateral deliberations send the exact opposite message and indicate that Washington just wants out.

2015-08-28 00:00:00

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