Egyptian Army intesifies military operations in Sinai: Two ISIS Leaders killed
On Tuesday, Jan 22, 2019, the Egyptian military issued a statement that army forces have killed at least 59 suspected militants and arrested another 142 militants and criminals, while airstrikes destroyed 56 vehicles containing weapons and ammunition in the Western Desert, south and northeastern border areas. Moreover, the Egyptian army said that two militant leaders were killed in those airstrikes. However, the statement gave no timeframe for the recent operations. ISIS affiliate in Sinai (Wilayat Sina) announced that one of its commanders known as Abou Jaafar al-Maqdesi was killed without mentioning further details regarding the time and the place of his death.
This is the 31st statement issued by the Egyptian military since the start of the “Comprehensive Operation − Sinai 2018” of a large counter-terrorism campaign conducted by the Egyptian Armed Forces and the Interior Ministry. The large-scale operation was initiated on Feb 09, 2018 following Al-Rawda mosque attack (Nov 24, 2017) which resulted in the killing of more than 300 people. However, this is the first time the military doesn’t refer to the “comprehensive operation in Sinai” as it was the practice in all previous statements. The sudden change in rhetoric raised speculations that this constitutes a silent withdrawal of the operation without causing a media frenzy over the Egyptian army and raising questions over their ability to contain ISIS insurgency in Sinai after almost one year since the Comprehensive Operation began.
According to the statement, one Egyptian officer was killed along with 6 troops in different attacks in central and northern Sinai. This indicates an increase in the number of attacks conducted by ISIS in Sinai. The period between the present statement and the previous one included several attacks, such the attack on Alasafa military post in central Sinai, which resulted in the killing and wounding of 15 Egyptian soldiers, including officers, in addition to dozens of bombings and sniper attacks targeting army forces along Sinai over the past weeks almost on a daily basis.
According to various reports, Israel shares intelligence with Egypt and the Israeli drones regularly target ISIS locations in the Peninsula. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi confirmed that Israel assisted in the fight against ISIS in Sinai earlier this month with an interview with CBS news stating that military cooperation between Egypt and Israel has been “wide-ranging” and closer than ever. Moreover, Israel in 2013 began to allow Egyptian forces into the peninsula, beyond the level permitted under the 1979 peace accord between the two countries.
The operation has witnessed thousands of human rights violations, with the military accused of indiscriminately bombing civilian areas and conducting thousands of extra-judicial killings of residents, regardless of their affiliation. Nearly 420,000 people in four north-eastern cities are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance due to the ongoing battle, according to Human Rights Watch, with the military also known to use US-manufactured cluster bombs in civilian areas. However, in previous statements the army rejected criticism from human rights groups over the impact on civilians of its campaign in Sinai, stating that people in the peninsula support the operation and receive humanitarian aid.
The Egyptian army still maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding the situation in the Peninsula and journalists are barred from going to areas targeted in the Sinai 2018 campaign, although the army organized a rare visit to the North Sinai capital El Arish in July. Thus, the number of casualties and security incidents could not be confirmed.