The Pentagon building in Washington, DC. (file photo)
The Pentagon is scaling down the number of US
troops in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula citing a rise in terrorist attacks by Daesh and affiliated groups, a US
defense official says.
According to Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis speaking on Tuesday, the decision was made after the US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter began “formal communications” with Egypt and Israel notifying them about the US review of its military mission as to the hundreds of troops currently operating in the North African country’s volatile Sinai Peninsula and the growing threat from terrorist groups.
The US has around 700 troops there as part of a United Nations operation established after Egypt and Israel signed a 1979 peace treaty and agreed for a Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission to monitor compliance.
Davis said the Pentagon remains “fully committed” to the MFO mission but wants to use drones and other high-tech tools rather than American personnel on the ground to assume some of the riskier work.
“I don’t think anyone is talking about a full-scale withdraw. I think we are just looking at the number of people we have there to see if there are functions we can automate,” He added. “We know that ISIL is active in the Sinai… It’s a situation there that has risks, and we want to make sure we’re addressing those risks appropriately.”
Sinai Peninsula has been under a state of emergency since October 2014, following a deadly terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 33 soldiers from the Egyptian security forces.
Militants have been carrying out deadly attacks by taking advantage of the turmoil that has gripped Egypt after democratically-elected former president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted by the military in July 2013.
Militants from the Takfiri Velayat Sinai group, previously known as Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, mainly targeting the army and police. In November 2014, the group pledged allegiance to the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group, mostly active in Iraq and Syria
‘Cyber bombs’ on ISIL
US Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work also said on Tuesday that the US military was launching cyber attacks on Daesh.
US Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work speaks at the Pentagon on February 9, 2016. (photo by Stripes.com)
“Those guys are under enormous pressure. Every time we have gone after one of their defended positions over the last six months, we have defeated them. They have left, they have retreated,” Work told reporters on a military plane en route to a Colorado air base.
He said the US and coalition forces were putting pressure on the terrorists from all directions, using every possible military capability, including “cyber bombs.”
Daesh terrorists, who were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government, now control large parts of Iraq and Syria, where they are engaged in crimes against humanity in the areas under their control.
US warplanes have been conducting airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq since August of 2014. Some Western states have also participated in some of the strikes in Iraq. Since September 2014, the US and some of its Arab allies have been carrying out airstrikes against Daesh inside Syria without any authorization from Damascus or the United Nations.
The US-led coalition stands accused of having done little to stop Daesh’s advances.