Operation Sinai 2018: Egypt Escalates Military Operations against Terrorism

Operation Sinai 2018 was launched on February 9, 2018, involving land, naval and air forces, as well as the police and border guards, targeting "terrorist and criminal elements and organizations" in northern and central Sinai, as well as parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert

Egyptian troops in Operation Sinai 2018 (Photo courtesy of the Armed Forces Spokesperson's Facebook page)

The Egyptian Armed Forces announced on February 9, 2018, the launch of a new major operation to confront terrorism in northern and central Sinai and other areas in the Nile Delta and the desert areas west of the Nile valley.

The Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on November 29, 2017, ordered the military to defeat militants in North Sinai within three months, after an attack on a mosque in which killed more than 300 people, the deadliest such incident in Egypt.

President el-Sisi said he is following with pride the heroics of the army and police in the "Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018." In a post on his official Facebook page, he said, "I follow with pride the heroics of my sons from the Armed Forces and the Police to purge the beloved land of Egypt from terrorists, the enemies of life. And always, long live Egypt."

The operation in Sinai

Law enforcement forces, supported by special forces and border guards as well as police, have carried out several simultaneous raids on towns in Central and Northern Sinai to chase runaway elements, eradicate them, and continue to demolish targets belonging to terrorist elements. Police forces are conducting combing operation in all residential areas in Central and North Sinai, setting up checkpoints on local roads in cooperation with armed forces.

In the first day of the operation, the armed forces targeted terrorist strongholds near Bir al-Abd city. The security forces also deployed in various areas south and west of Rafah. 

The Third Army forces tightened the siege and closure of all entrances and exits of Hassana in central Sinai, the back of Bir al-Abd to prevent the escape of terrorists.

Egypt's army said on February 11, 2018, in the first announcement of casualties since the campaign was launched two days ago, that sixteen militants have been killed and four arrested in northern and central Sinai. Thirty other suspects have been captured.

The security forces destroyed 4x4 vehicles, motorbikes and arms caches used by militants. They also uncovered and destroyed a media center with computers, wireless communication equipment, books and documents related to jihadi ideology. In addition, six farms used to grow illegal narcotics were found and destroyed.

The air force destroyed 66 targets used by terrorist elements to hide from air and artillery attacks and to escape from their bases during raids.

The navy is tightening control on the seafront from Rafah to western El Arish, to cut supply lines for terrorists, while maintaining the security of economic installations in the area. Naval units from a Mistral helicopter carrier have continued to comb the coast of El Arish, while police and coast guards intensified security measures and patrols.

Border guards and other forces are carrying out missions to secure navigation in the Suez Canal and thwart attempts of terrorists to escape from Sinai.

There are no official reports of the losses of the security forces, but medics said three soldiers had been killed since the start of the "Operation Sinai 2018". One of them a member of the military's Special Forces was killed in the south of El Arish on February 9, 2018.

Egyptian authorities have decided to close all schools in North Sinai until further notice starting on February 10, 2018. The Ministry of Higher Education is also suspending studies at universities and other institutions of higher education for one week. The decision came following discussions between Egypt's Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel Ghafour and North Sinai governor Khaled Harhour over the situation in the area in light of ongoing military and security antiterrorism operations, the ministry added.

The Western border with Libya

Navy units are conducting patrols to secure the coast from Marsa Matrouh to Salloum along the western Mediterranean shores in cooperation with the border guards who are securing southern and western border areas.

Forces are also executing operations to track terrorists in the Western Desert’s Wahat and other areas in Upper Egypt governorates and Egypt's southern desert.

Highest alert level

Egypt interior ministry the country’s security alert level to its highest level nationwide, in light of the "fierce war" by the police in coordination with the armed forces to eradicate "the roots of terrorism."

Security measures in the vicinity of major state institutions, houses of worship and tourist hotspots have been boosted. Security patrols have been set up in squares and on major highways in each governorate, as well as on connecting roads between governorates, with a continuation of security campaigns to comb remote areas to eliminate threats to the security and stability of citizens. Security patrols have been set up in squares and on major highways in each governorate, as well as on connecting roads between governorates, with a continuation of security campaigns to comb remote areas to eliminate threats to the security and stability of citizens.

The operation against Hasm terror group

Hours after the Egyptian army started Operation Sinai 2018, the interior ministry said it killed three members of the banned Hasm terrorist group in a shootout in an under-construction residential building in Cairo.

The ministry said its comprehensive security plan to curb the group’s actions in Qalioubiya, Daqahliya, Beheira, Menoufiya, Sharqiya, Assiut, and Fayoum led to the arrest of 14 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood following raids on their hideouts on Friday.

"In the framework of the interior ministry’s efforts to abort the plans of terrorist the Muslim Brotherhood – which aims to compromise the country’s security and undermine its capabilities – the national security department has monitored the issuance of a mandate from the fugitive terrorist group leaders abroad to its elements who are members of Hasm, one of the armed wings of the Brotherhood," the interior ministry said.

The ministry said that the Hasm terrorists were instructed "to execute a number of synchronized hostile operations on vital and important institutions as well as police and Armed Forces ahead of the presidential elections, to create a state of instability and present a negative image about the situation in the country."

The internal legitimacy and support for the operation

Egypt's parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said that Egypt's parliament fully supports the "honorable and just" ongoing operation by the Egyptian army to purge the country of terrorists. "The parliament values all the sacrifices of brave Egyptian soldiers, and calls on Egyptians to stand with police and the Armed Forces in the country’s war against terrorism until the land of Egypt is cleansed of it forever," Abdel-Aal added.

Egypt's Al-Azhar announced its "full support" for Operation Sinai 2018, calling on all the Egyptian people "to support the brave men of the army and police in their fight against terrorist and criminal elements." In a statement, it praised the sacrifices of the army and police in the confrontation against terrorists so "Egypt can be purged of these elements that have and terrorized and killed citizens," and in order "to foil the attempts to foster chaos and strife to harm the stability of the homeland." Al-Azhar also hailed the sacrifices of the residents of Sinai who "have endured suffering caused by "the criminality of such terrorist groups."

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, headed by Pope Tawadros II, declared its solidarity and support for the "comprehensive battle" of the Egyptian armed forces and the patriotic police that aims at purging "the forces of terrorism" all over the country, in accordance with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi's directives. "History will record the sacrifices of Egypt's brave army and police who sacrifice their lives for the sake of the country's stability, long live Egypt's unity," the church statement added.

Summary

In late November 2017, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sis ordered the military to defeat terrorists in North Sinai within three months, a deadline that will expire at the end of February. He authorized chief of staff General Mohamed Farid Hegazy to use "brute force."

"Operation Sinai 2018" was launched on February 9, 2018, involving land, naval and air forces, as well as the police and border guards, targeting "terrorist and criminal elements and organizations" in northern and central Sinai, as well as parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert.

The military campaign comes ahead of the presidential election in March 2018, in which President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is running for a second four-year term with no serious contenders.

Egypt has for years been battling Islamist militancy based in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula that mainly targets security forces. The army said it had killed hundreds of militants in military operations there.

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