Egypt's Army Spokesperson Colonel Tamer El-Refai (Photo: Ahram)
Just over five months have passed since the Egyptian armed forces launched the comprehensive military Operation Sinai 2018 in cooperation with the police.
On 9 February the plan to fully confront terrorist and criminal individuals and organizations began to be implemented in North and Central Sinai, and in other areas in the Nile Delta and desert areas west of the Nile Valley, according to the first Armed Forces communiqué on the operation.
Egypt's Armed Forces Spokesperson Tamer El-Refaie gave an in-depth interview with Al-Ahram Al-Araby weekly magazine which is set to be published in full on Saturday, highlighting the latest developments on the ground and achievements of the Sinai 2018 operation.
The interview is the first to be conducted by Egypt's armed forces spokesperson in an Egyptian or Arab newspaper since he assumed his role in January 2017.
Since the launch of the operation in February 2018, army forces have killed more than 321 terrorists and confiscated more than 1000 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), according to El-Refai.
In terms of achievements, Operation Sinai 2018 has succeeded in cutting arms and ammunition supply lines to terrorists, targeting "takfiri" leaders with complete success using information from different intelligence agencies regarding terrorist hideouts in the North Sinai governorate.
The Arabic word "takfiri" refers to extremist Sunni Muslims who accuse other Muslims of being infidels, often to justify the use of violence against them.
In addition to counter-terrorism operations, development efforts are ongoing in parallel in North Sinai. The Armed Forces Engineering Authority has completed 134 projects worth EGP 175 billion in the peninsula (US$9.8 billion), out of the 290 included in the development plan.
Since the start of the operation, the Egyptian Armed Forces have conducted 11 joint military exercises with neighbouring countries, as well as participating in ongoing collaboration with the Community of Sahel-Saharan states on counter-terrorism.
The Egyptian army spokesperson said the major achievement of Operation Sinai 2018 is the re-establishment of normal living conditions for residents, and the restoration of security in areas cleansed of terrorism in the governorate.
"The statistics and numbers in different military communiqués following the operation's launch demonstrate the great success on the ground," El-Refaie said, praising the role of Sinai residents in counter-terrorism efforts.
El-Refaie also affirmed that the comprehensive operation against terrorism is not only limited to Sinai but includes many strategic levels.
"The Egyptian Armed Forces are always targeted by false news, mainly broadcast by the anti-state media, which encourage and incite terrorism against army and police forces," the Egyptian army spokesperson said.
"These terrorist organizations receive financial and logistical assistance from several parties, whether inside the country or abroad, in addition to intelligence information with the aim of disrupting the country's security and stability," El-Refaie added.
"The educational process is now running smoothly in all North Sinai's schools and universities, as normal life has been restored in most areas freed from the threat of terrorism."
The Egyptian armed forces are currently working on completing the North Sinai buffer zone bordering the Gaza strip and destroying smuggling tunnels, executing a very technologically advanced system to limit communication between terrorist elements and enhance security capabilities.
"While conducting its operations in Sinai and in any other part of the state, the Egyptian armed forces are committed to human rights standards and complete protection of civilians in combat areas," the army spokesman affirmed.
El-Refaie affirmed that many suspects are released after conducting legal procedures proving they are not involved in any criminal cases or violence.
El-Refaie also stressed the armed forces' abidance by the highest levels of integrity and credibility in all information provided in public regarding the military operation and the security situation, both locally and internationally.
Operation Sinai 2018 involves land, naval and air forces, as well as police and border guards.
In November 2017, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi ordered the Egyptian army and police forces to restore stability and security in the Sinai Peninsula within three months, using the "utmost force."