Operation Sinai 2018: Hands-on

Ahmed Eleiba , Wednesday 14 Feb 2018

Comprehensive Operation Sinai began last week. Ahmed Eleiba reports on what is happening on the ground

Sinai 2018
Egyptian armed forces (Photo: Egypt's ministry of Defense handout)

The military operation launched in Sinai on Friday implements the instructions of the Egyptian president and supreme commander of the Armed Forces to the General Command of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Interior to wage a comprehensive battle against terrorism and other criminal activities in North and Central Sinai, the Delta, the Nile Valley and the Western Desert, says the Armed Forces spokesman.

Sinai 2018

The Armed Forces and Ministry of Interior will also take all necessary action, including training manoeuvres and other operational tasks, to tighten security along Egypt’s borders to ensure the elimination of terrorist lairs, safeguard Egyptian society from terrorism and extremism and confront all other types of crime detrimental to security and stability.

Preparations for COS 2018 began when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi appointed Lieutenant General Mohamed Farid as army chief of staff and tasked him with purging Sinai of terrorism within three months.

Military expert General Nasr Salem told Al-Ahram Weekly that early preparations included the collection of accurate data from across the country and the systematic analysis of all information collected. Vital installations had to be totally secured before the operation began, and all government organisations and agencies needed to be fully prepared to undertake their roles during the course of the operation.

Though Sinai is part of the operation’s code name it covers the entire country. General Talaat Moussa, professor of national security affairs at the Higher Nasser Military Academy, told the Weekly: “The operation has two levels of comprehensiveness. The first is qualitative comprehensiveness, which is manifested in two ways. One is the involvement of all branches and sectors of the military and security forces — from the Air Force, Navy and Border Patrols to special forces such as the commandos, paratroopers and rapid deployment forces. The second qualitative dimension is that the strategy entails not just the planned military operations but also exercises and manoeuvres undertaken simultaneously by participating forces. This is one of the major differences between this operation and the Eagle and Martyr’s Right operations that preceded it.”

Sinai 2018

“The second level of comprehensiveness is geographic. The operational sphere extends across all areas and in all strategic directions — to the east, west, south and centre — within a framework of close cooperation nationally.”

While cooperation with the Armed Forces was a feature of previous operations support for the current operation is “unprecedented” says North Sinai MP Hossam Al-Refaai.

“One senses a genuine will to rid Sinai of terrorists even if only because of day-to-day concerns such as the availability of goods and fuel, of transport and communications.”

“Through personal observation during the campaign I have seen how warmly the people in Arish welcome the police and how readily they cooperate during house-to-house inspections,” says Salah Salem, head of the North Sinai branch of the Doctors Syndicate and a member of the National Council for Human Rights.

 “Naturally there are strains, because the huge campaign impacts on daily life in terms of the availability of food and products. However, bakeries are in operation distributing bread in accordance with subsidy quotas per family, and major commercial outlets distribute other products wholesale.”

Sinai 2018

According to Salem, there is a shortage of fuel and students in Sinai have difficulty reaching their places of study. The same applies to some patients.

“Although healthcare is functioning, some patients, such as those with cancer, have to go to Cairo for special needs, including medication. These people need an open road, if only for a few hours every day or every other day.”

“Civilian cooperation with the campaign affirms that there is no resentment. In fact, there is the opposite — heartfelt welcome. But there are some simple matters that need to be remedied.”

According to the military spokesman, in the first four days of the operation the Air Force destroyed a total of 122 locations used by terrorists as hideouts. Among the targets destroyed were stores of chemicals used to manufacture explosives, warehouses containing military uniforms, a field laboratory, a media centre containing numerous computers, wireless communications devices and printed material, l3 hideouts containing provisions and motorcycle spare parts, a 250-metre-long and two-metre wide covered trench, a workshop used to dismantle stolen vehicles and 31 explosives depots. In addition, 28 takfiri elements have been eliminated and 122 suspects arrested.

During combing operations 23 explosive devices were disabled, 22 four-wheel drive vehicles used by terrorist elements were confiscated, and 11 vehicles and 58 motorcycles destroyed. Thirteen marijuana fields were discovered and destroyed and more than half a ton of narcotic substances ready for marketing confiscated. Security forces also intercepted a weapons smuggling operation from Libya after targeting and destroying four vehicles transporting arms and ammunitions.

Joint combat teams made up of soldiers and police have set up 398 patrols and security checkpoints at strategic locations across the country.

General Nasr Salem stressed that the number of arrests “is extremely useful in the context of intelligence gathering, especially given that some of those arrested had been wanted on multiple charges”.

The ability to identify so many hideouts and storehouses, says Salem, is in part due to the use of modern equipment capable of detecting these hidden facilities. And judging by the lists of items destroyed or discovered and confiscated he believes the operation has not only delivered a blow to the terrorists’ weapons arsenals but has eroded their communications systems.

COS has also delivered a blow to organised crime and drug trafficking.

If “comprehensive” is the key word, coordination is the crucial underlying concept. It helped make possible the operation on the western front that succeeded in intercepting the weapons smuggling group which had infiltrated the western border a time when operations in Sinai are in full gear.

Salem also noted how the Mistral moved towards the coast of Arish in tandem with other naval vessels which had been deployed in the Mediterranean and Red Sea in order to prevent the flight of terrorist elements or the infiltration of reinforcements from coastal areas. Simultaneously, naval units remained busy patrolling and protecting Egypt’s vital maritime economic zone and offshore natural gas fields.

* This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly  

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