U.S. President Barack Obama (Reuters)
The US is sending dozens of additional troops and support equipment to improve protection for US peacekeepers in the northern Sinai Peninsula in the aftermath of a roadside bomb attack last week that wounded four US soldiers, defense officials said Wednesday.
The officials said at least 75 additional troops are being deployed, including a light-infantry platoon and a surgical team, as well as surveillance equipment and other assets designed to beef up the peacekeepers' self-protection.
The officials were not authorized to discuss the details publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity. They said plans for additional security measures were in the works before last week's attack, reflecting growing US concern about security for US members of what is formally known as the Multinational Force and Observers.
The US has about 720 soldiers in the Sinai as part of the multinational force that has continually monitored compliance with the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The centerpiece of the US group is the 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry Regiment of the Texas Army National Guard, which has been operating there since early this year.
Four US soldiers and two Fijians with the Multinational Force and Observers' peacekeeping mission were injured last Thursday when their vehicles were hit by a roadside bomb during a routine patrol near their base in the town of el-Gorah.
Egypt has been battling a long-running insurgency in the region that has grown since the 2011 popular uprising against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. After the overthrow of his successor, Mohamed Morsi, in July 2013, attacks surged. A local militant group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group last year, renaming itself Sinai Province and killing scores of soldiers.
The Associated Press reported in August that the Obama administration was quietly reviewing the future of America's role in the Sinai. Options ranged from beefing up the US troops' protection to pulling them out altogether. One defense official said Wednesday that there is currently no active plan to pull out of the mission but that US officials have been discussing force protection measures since mid-August with the Israeli and Egyptian governments.
Asked Tuesday about the US review, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the US supports the role of the Multinational Force and Observers, or MFO.
"We are concerned over security conditions in that area of the northeastern Sinai where Egyptian security forces as well as civilian and military elements of the MFO, including US military forces stationed at the MFO north camp, are exposed to potential risk," Cook said.
"And in light of the security situation there, we are, again, considering additional measures to bolster their protection going forward, taking steps to try and enhance their protection."