In his capacity as supreme commander of the Armed Forces, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi last week approved Chief of Staff Mohamed Farid Hegazi’s request to extend the three-month deadline originally set for eliminating terrorism from Sinai.
Fielding questions during a press briefing with military correspondents, Army Spokesman Tamer Al-Rifaai said operations will continue until Sinai is completely free of terrorism.
Comprehensive Operation Sinai (COS) 2018 differs significantly from earlier counter-terrorism operations.
Unlike the Eagle and Martyr’s Right campaigns, artillery forces have been engaged in the bombardment of terrorist lairs and assembly points in the Gabal Al-Halal area in Central Sinai.
In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly counter-terrorism expert Brigadier General Khaled Okasha said: “After a month of military operations we have, perhaps for the first time, struck deep into the infrastructure of Sinai’s terror groups.”
COS 2018, says Okasha, has taken on board the lessons learned during earlier campaigns.
“The army has consolidated its resources after months of piecemeal counter-terrorism operations which were generally under-resourced. The inroads the operation has made in destroying the terrorists’ infrastructure has revealed how deeply terrorist groups had penetrated the area. There was an urgent need to use overwhelming force, including aerial and artillery bombardment, to eliminate them.”
It was also necessary to eliminate obstacles to the movement of forces, which entailed combing operations to clear explosive devices and destroy terrorist operations rooms, hideouts and communications centres.
The military spokesman has continued to furnish regular updates on the progress of COS 2018. By the time this report was filed he had issued 14 communiqués and held three press conferences during which details have been given of the huge amounts of weapons and military machinery discovered and destroyed.
A lieutenant colonel who serves with the artillery told the Weekly that targets subjected to artillery strikes are outside of inhabited areas.
“If command is notified of a terrorist lair in a residential area other forces, such as the commandos, deal with it,” he said.
“Protecting innocent people is our primary mission. We do not endanger civilians’ lives. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to cancel raids on terrorist lairs because civilians were in the vicinity.”
Al-Rifaai, too, has stressed how the welfare of civilians and human rights have been protected during the ongoing operation.
Salah Salem, a member of the National Council for Human Rights, says Sinai residents continue to support the army in Sinai.
“Morale is high and there are no problems with the availability of food and fuel subsidies,” he said.
“However, there are still obstacles to movement and transport, both within Sinai or between Sinai and the rest of the country, due to military operations.” A source in Arish said that thanks to the military operations homes and buildings have been recovered from the terrorist elements that had occupied them and expelled their inhabitants.
Meanwhile, Bedouin tribes in Ismailia convened a rally in support of President Al-Sisi in the elections. During the event, which was attended by many Sinai tribal elders, speakers lauded the ongoing counter-terrorist operation.
Sheikh Eissa Al-Kharafin, head of the Association of Sinai Tribal Leaders, welcomed Al-Sisi’s announcement that the New Rafah City would be ready by the end of December and residents of the peninsula were being offered real work opportunities through the national Sinai development project for which the government has earmarked LE274 billion.
Many military experts and observers foreground the links between COS 2018 and Sinai development plans.
As of Sunday, when the 14th communiqué was released, COS 2018 had yielded the following results: 209 targets destroyed by the Air Force, including six booby-trapped vehicles and two four-wheel-drive vehicles; 777 targets eliminated by artillery forces; 105 terrorists killed (including a seven-member cell in Arish) and 91 arrested.
There have been a total of 2,850 arrests of people wanted on criminal charges or suspected of aiding and abetting takfiri groups. Of these, 1,447 were released following the prerequisite security procedures. A total of 2,252 hideouts, lairs, weapons and ammunitions depots, storehouses for communications or medical supplies and explosive manufacturing labs have been eliminated, including a complete underground warehouse.
Two communications centres and three signal dispatch centres were discovered and destroyed; 510 explosive devices were disabled and 129 firearms confiscated.
An explosives manufacturing workshop containing large quantities of C4 and TNT was discovered and destroyed; 164 vehicles and 413 motorcycles used by terrorists were disabled or confiscated (including a four-wheel-drive vehicle carrying arms and ammunitions near the border with Libya); and five tunnel openings have been filled by the military engineering corps.
Four migrant smuggling attempts were intercepted and 461 illegal migrants have been arrested. Eleven vehicles carrying arms and ammunition were destroyed as they attempted to infiltrate the border.
Ten security personnel have been killed in the course of combat.
Al-Rifaai also revealed that an attempted suicide bombing attack targeting soldiers had been prevented when four terrorists, described as highly dangerous, were arrested wearing explosive belts.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly