Comprehensive Operation Sinai (COS) 2018 continues to inflict losses on terrorist groups operating in Sinai.
Fifty-two terrorists were killed and 32 vehicles transporting arms from across Egypt’s southern and western borders were destroyed in the framework of COS 2018 according to Communiqué 26 released by the Armed Forces General Command this week.
The communiqué, which presented a detailed progress report on the counter-terrorist operation since 3 July, is interesting in several respects.
It reports, for example, that National Security forces in Arish eliminated 13 individuals classified as “extremely dangerous”.
This throws into relief the role of the National Security Agency in uncovering terrorist cells in urban districts, an important component of the counter-terrorist drive in Sinai. It speaks, in particular, of the crucial role of intelligence gathering in this process.
General Hisham Al-Halabi, a professor of military sciences at the National Defence College, told Al-Ahram Weekly that COS 2018 was originally conceived as a joint operation between the Armed Forces and the civil police and the National Security apparatus contributes to its planning and execution.
Raids of terrorist lairs, such as those reported in the most recent communiqué, need to be based on precise intelligence to avert civilian casualties.
The destruction of 32 vehicles carrying weapons is noteworthy on other levels. That 15 of the vehicles came from Libya suggests continued attempts on the part of terrorist groups in eastern Libya to smuggle arms to their counterparts in Sinai.
The 17 vehicles destroyed coming from the southern border indicates that terrorist groups in northern Sudan are bent on the same objectives as those in Libya.
The successful operation points to closer Egyptian-Sudanese security cooperation. Two weeks ago President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi visited Sudan. Unofficial sources said at the time the Sudanese authorities had handed over a terrorist commander wanted by Egypt.
Around the same time General Mohamed Farid, chief of staff of the Armed Forces, flew to Sudan and met with government officials to discuss security and military cooperation between Cairo and Khartoum.
The rapid boost in Egyptian-Sudanese at this level is significant given how Sudan has served as a refuge for many terrorist elements fleeing Egypt in recent years.
Al-Halabi says three factors are at work in the latest cross-border arms smuggling attempts.
First, terrorist organisations must be receiving support from countries hostile to Egypt since such small groups could not afford the four-wheel-drive vehicles used to transport weaponry, let alone buy the arms in the first place.
Secondly, the continued attempts mean terrorist groups and their supporters are determined to continue to stage operations against Egypt.
Thirdly, intelligence agencies of hostile countries are furnishing the terrorist operatives with the know-how to engage in cross border smuggling along unfamiliar routes through the rugged territory of Egypt’s western and southern borders.
The ongoing smuggling attempts also suggest there is a high demand for arms on the part of Sinai-based terrorists. This demand is a result of the losses they have sustained under the assault of COS 2018.
“There is also a demand for recruits due to the attrition of personnel,” says Al-Halabi. “The large number of terrorists cited in the army’s communiqué as trying to infiltrate across the border supports my contention regarding the involvement of hostile countries and their intelligence agencies. The infiltration is systematic.”
The army communiqué reported that during raids carried out jointly between the Armed Forces and the police 49 takfiris ranked as “extremely dangerous” were arrested in North and Central Sinai.
Unofficial sources and some websites affiliated with terrorist groups say the organisation’s commander in the Sheikh Zuweid zone, Mohamed Abdel-Latif Abu Jazar, Aka Abu Jaafar Al-Maqdisi, was killed in a raid two weeks ago.
According to the communiqué, the Armed Forces discovered and destroyed a fuel collection point used by jihadists in Central Sinai and army engineering units discovered and destroyed four tunnel openings.
The tunnels along the border in Rafah in North Sinai were equipped with electric cables, Internet and computer wires.
Meanwhile, life in Sinai appears to be returning to normal as COS 2018 progresses. Markets and stores are buzzing with activity and the summer activities of universities, youth and sports organisations and cultural facilities seem to be in full swing.
Restrictions were imposed on such activities during the initial stages of COS 2018 but as progress was made in the fight against terrorism the restrictions have been gradually lifted.
As life falls back gradually into normality, there can once more be focus on the development of the peninsula which has always been a priority of the government since the 30 June Revolution.
Earlier this year Al-Sisi announced that the government had earmarked LE275 billion to tackle problems in Sinai and lay the foundations for a secure future.
The Armed Forces will play a crucial role in that development. In a recent seminar on Sinai development Ibrahim Mehleb, assistant to the president for national projects, used the term “development brigades” to characterise the concept of civilian-military integration in this process.
These brigades, he said, will rebuild Sinai in tandem with military operations to rid the peninsula of terrorism.
The Armed Forces’ participation in the development process does nothing to detract from its core defence functions and combat efficiency, says General Mohamed Qashqoush, professor of military strategy and national security at the Higher Nasser Military Academy.
Instead, he opined, it contributes added value at the logistical level while putting to work surplus recruitment and the army’s diverse specialised expertise.
The army’s presence is important not only for their expertise and logistical solutions but more importantly for security considerations, Mehleb stressed.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 August 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Paving for development