Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi inaugurated on February 25, 2018, the East of the Suez Canal Counter-Terrorism command. Several top state and army officials attended the event, including Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, Minister of Defense Sedki Sobhi, Army Chief of Staff Mohamed Farid and others. The new facility is a meeting and visitor center constructed by military engineers 27 meters underground.
The inauguration comes in the midst of the ongoing comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018, launched on February 9, 2018, by the Egyptian Armed Forces to counter terrorism in northern and central Sinai and other areas across Egypt.
The president was briefed on the forces and the command's facilities before he visited the East of the Canal Command's headquarters, where tactics for Operation Sinai 2018 are planned. During the inauguration, el-Sisi listened to a presentation by Gen. Hassan Abdel-Shafi, director of the military engineers’ corps, who explained the structure of the command center's military and administrative units.
On January 31, 2015, President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi chaired a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, during which he issued two consequential declarations. The first changed the force structure of the army by creating a "unified command" to oversee counterterrorism operations east of the Suez Canal (The Unified command of the area east of the canal or the East of the Suez Canal Counter-Terrorism command). The center was first mooted two and a half years ago when the eastern commands – the first and second field armies were unified.
The second promoted Osama Askar, commander of the Third Field Army, both in rank and in title: he is now a lieutenant general – one of a handful in the armed forces – and in charge of the "unified command." He will also retain his seat on the SCAF. Askar’s former deputy, Muhammad Abdullah, has been appointed commander, and Tarek Anwar Helal the chief of staff, of the Third Field Army.
In November 2017, following a terrorist attack that killed hundreds of worshippers at a North Sinai mosque, el-Sisi mandated the army's chief of staff to restore security and stability in the restive northern part of the Sinai Peninsula within three months.
El-Sisi was also briefed by Army Chief of Staff Mohamed Farid on the results of the operation over the past few weeks. After concluding a presentation on the progress of COS 2018, Gen. Mohamed Farid Hegazi requested an extension of the three-month deadline for the eradication of terrorism.
The president clarified that the current operation in Sinai already began in 2014 and will carry on until 2022, and said that Sinai's development expenses are expected to reach EGP 225 billion, a huge sum that requires the solidarity of all Egyptians to acquire.
Operation Sinai 2018
The operation launched on February 9, 2018, targets "terrorist and criminal elements and organizations" in northern and central Sinai, as well as parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert. Operation Sinai 2018 involves land, naval and air forces, as well as the police and border guards.
Since the launch of Operation Sinai 2018, the Egyptian military says it has killed 71 terrorists and arrested 1,852 suspects.
Egypt's Army Chief of Staff Mohamed Farid has called on President el-Sisi to extend the operation beyond the three-month timeframe for establishing security in northern Sinai that is due to expire in late February. The army’s chief of staff explained that the reason for his request was the preparations being made on the ground by terrorist elements.
"We have been preparing for this operation since your [November] mandate, but when it comes to execution, we are carrying out the operation on the ground against elements that have implemented several preparations underground, with warehouses that include highly explosive materials in residential areas. The forces face such elements in these [residential] areas, which makes it difficult for us to inspect them," Farid told el-Sisi.
Farid also highlighted plans by terrorist elements to expand the use of improvised explosive devices, car bombs, snipers, and grenades, due to the inability of militant units to engage in direct confrontation with the armed forces in Sinai.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi inaugurated the East of the Canal Command Center on 25 February 2018, days before the end of the three-month deadline he had given to eradicate terrorism from Sinai.
Appearing in uniform for the fourth time since he was elected president, el-Sisi said, "The Egyptian people trust the ability of their Armed Forces to protect Egypt." The president lauded recent successes in eliminating terrorist operatives, lairs and arms depots and securing the borders of the peninsula, severing terrorist supply lines and smuggling routes for weapons, ammunition and terrorists.
Egypt witnesses a significant rise in militancy, particularly in Sinai, since the military-backed ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 following mass protests against his rule.
Egypt’s army and police forces have been waging a war over the past three years against an Islamist militant insurgency mainly in northern Sinai. Hundreds of security personnel and militants have been killed in the violence.
Over the course of the last years, the Egyptian Armed Forces launched several operations against militant stationing points across the Sinai Peninsula, particularly in the cities of Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah, and Al-Arish.
Sinai Province, the militant group behind the insurgency, pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014. It is the most active insurgent group in Egypt. It has been linked to a number of deadly attacks, mostly in North Sinai, but also in the capital, Cairo, and other provinces. The Egyptian countermeasures will reduce the operational capabilities of the terror group.