As ‘caliphate’ shrinks, IS strug­gles in Egypt

Car bomb at­tack kills 8 sol­diers in Si­nai

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

CAIRO:

As the Is­lamic State group loses ter­ri­tory in Iraq and Syria, one of its dead­li­est branches is strug­gling against Egypt’s pow­er­ful army to main­tain a foothold in the Si­nai Penin­sula. The af­fil­i­ate, known as Si­nai Prov­ince, has waged a murky war in the north of the penin­sula bor­der­ing Is­rael that has killed hun­dreds of sol­diers and po­lice­men. It also claimed the bomb­ing of a Rus­sian air­liner car­ry­ing hol­i­day­mak­ers from a south Si­nai re­sort in Oct 2015 that killed all 224 peo­ple on board. Egypt’s tourism has yet to re­cover.

But Si­nai Prov­ince has been un­able to seize pop­u­la­tion cen­ters, with one at­tempt to oc­cupy a town in 2015 end­ing with the mil­i­tary un­leash­ing F-16 jets against the mil­i­tants. In­stead the group has tried to keep up a steady war of at­tri­tion in­volv­ing road­side bomb­ings, sniper fire and check­point at­tacks such as the one on Thurs­day that killed eight sol­diers. The mil­i­tants are in­creas­ingly en­cir­cled in the penin­sula, with the mil­i­tary raz­ing sec­tions of a town bor­der­ing the Pales­tinian Gaza Strip to cre­ate a buf­fer zone and de­stroy­ing tun­nels there, while set­ting up check­points on routes out.

“The mil­i­tary’s big­gest suc­cess is that they have been able to con­tain the in­sur­gency, by and large, to North Si­nai,” said Jantzen Gar­nett, an ex­pert on the ji­hadists with the Na­vanti Group an­a­lyt­ics com­pany. The army had been strug­gling to quash the in­sur­gency that took off in 2013 af­ter the mil­i­tary ousted Is­lamist pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Morsi, un­leash­ing a bloody crack­down on his fol­low­ers.

Short Term Progress

Three years into the in­sur­gency, how­ever, a de­ci­sive vic­tory against the mil­i­tants ap­pears dis­tant, as Thurs­day’s at­tack sug­gests. “The Egyp­tian army has made some short-term progress against (Si­nai Prov­ince) over the past year but the mil­i­tant group con­tin­ues to adapt and this progress should not be con­strued as long-term suc­cess,” Gar­nett said. “The mil­i­tary upped up its pres­ence in the Si­nai fol­low­ing the July 1 at­tempt at tak­ing over Sheikh Zuweid,” an­a­lyst Mokhtar Awad said of the group’s at­tempt to seize the north Si­nai town in 2015.

The mil­i­tants in­stead have “dou­bled down on types of op­er­a­tions fo­cus­ing on try­ing to com­mit ter­ror­ist at­tacks... and fo­cus on planting IEDs (im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices) and more sniper at­tacks,” said Awad, a re­search fel­low with Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity’s Pro­gram on Ex­trem­ism. They have also in­creased as­sas­si­na­tions of of­fi­cers and kid­nap­pings and ex­e­cu­tions of sus­pected in­for­mants, in two cases pub­licly shoot­ing them in the streets of North Si­nai’s cap­i­tal El-Ar­ish.

The mil­i­tary toll is dif­fi­cult to ver­ify. The mil­i­tary oc­ca­sion­ally an­nounces ca­su­al­ties, such as the eight sol­diers killed on Thurs­day. Other re­ported ca­su­al­ties are not al­ways dis­closed. In Novem­ber alone, Egyp­tian me­dia re­ported on the fu­ner­als - held within a day of the deaths - of at least 10 mil­i­tary sol­diers and of­fi­cers, not count­ing the eight killed on Thurs­day. It is im­pos­si­ble to as­cer­tain the toll among mil­i­tants, who do not dis­close their deaths. The mil­i­tary says it has killed hun­dreds of mil­i­tants, oc­ca­sion­ally pub­lish­ing pic­tures of their corpses.

Leader Killed

“It’s al­ways murky when it comes to as­sess­ing the pic­ture in Si­nai due to lim­its in ver­i­fi­ca­tion,” Awad said. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s hi­er­ar­chy also re­mains a mys­tery. In Au­gust, the mil­i­tary an­nounced it had killed the group’s top leader in Si­nai, iden­ti­fied as Abu Duaa, with­out pro­vid­ing fur­ther de­tails. The moniker “An­sari” - used by mil­i­tants in Si­nai for lo­cals of the penin­sula - sug­gests he was a Si­nai Be­douin. A cap­tured ji­hadi has said in in­ter­ro­ga­tions that the iden­tity of the group’s over­all leader in Si­nai was un­known and he passed on in­struc­tions through a sub­or­di­nate. —AFP

EL-AR­ISH, Egypt: This file photo taken on July 9, 2015 shows a mem­ber of the Egyp­tian se­cu­rity forces stand­ing guard next to a dam­aged bus fol­low­ing a road­side bomb blast which wounded 20 Egyp­tian po­lice­men on the out­skirts of north­ern Si­nai’s pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal. —AFP

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