President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated the East of the Canal Command Centre, on 25 February, days before the end of the three-month deadline he had given to eradicate terrorism from Sinai.
The new command centre is part of an ambitious drive to upgrade and modernise the Armed Forces, said Presidential Spokesman Bassam Radi.
The new facility is a meeting and visitor centre constructed by military engineers 27 metres underground. It is not an operations control headquarters, says General Nagi Shuhoud of the Higher Nasser Military Academy. “The operations control facility is situated in another area and it is reserved for military personnel and operations management.”
The centre was first mooted two and a half years ago when the eastern commands — the first and second field armies — were unified and the site has been visited by leading officials.
During the inauguration Al-Sisi listened to a presentation by General Hassan Abdel-Shafi, director of the military engineers’ corps, who explained the structure of the command centre’s military and administrative units.
The president lauded recent successes in eliminating terrorist operatives, lairs and arms depots and securing the borders of the peninsula, severing terrorist supply lines and smuggling routes for weapons, ammunition and terrorists.
Appearing in uniform for the fourth time since he was elected president, Al-Sisi said: “The Egyptian people trust the ability of their Armed Forces to protect Egypt.”
After concluding a presentation on the progress of COS 2018, General Mohamed Farid Hegazi requested an extension of the three-month deadline for the eradication of terrorism.
“We started to prepare for the comprehensive military operation from the moment we were assigned the mission. We have now begun to carry it out,” he said.
“The Armed Forces have discovered that terrorists prepared installations and planted explosive devices throughout the areas in which they operate in Sinai, including some residential quarters.”
“The original deadline was an expression of the desire to eliminate any threats as quickly as possible, especially after attacks on Al-Rawda Mosque at Beir Al-Abd and at Arish airport during the defence and interior ministers’ visit in November,” says Brigadier General Khaled Okasha, a member of the National Counter-terrorism Council. But from a security standpoint the timetable has proved too short to execute all the required tasks.
In requesting an extension the chief of staff was being objective and honest, says Okasha.
“Goals are being accomplished and the way is being paved for development plans without any falsification of facts on the ground or precipitous haste.
Development is core to our long stern strategy, which is why we saw the president at the command centre not just with military leaders but also with ministers who oversee public services, utilities and investment. The development dimension of the operation could not be clearer.”
Okasha’s words echoed those of the presidential spokesman who said: “A comprehensive development process in Sinai began in 2014 and will continue until 2022.” Noting that the process will cost some LE275 billion, he urged Egyptians to work together to facilitate the financing.
The president appealed to citizens and the business community to contribute to the Long Live Egypt Fund, saying funding development in Sinai has become a national security question of the first order.
In a press briefing for military reporters, army spokesman Colonel Tamer Al-Rifaai said COS 2018 will continue until north and central Sinai are free of terrorism.
* This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly