Sunday, April 24, 2016

The US government is concerned about how Egypt is handling ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula

A picture of the Airbus A321-231 that Egypt's ISIS branch destroyed. Sergey Korovkin. 

The United States government is growing more concerned with the way Egypt is handling the war against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula. Washington Post. General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sissi discussed the activities of ISIS and the plan to defeat them in the Sinai. U.S. officials believe that ISIS may spiral out of control and may gain territory in the region. They are also afraid that the 700 US troops in the region, part of a security deal between Egypt and Israel, could come under attack. ISIS has already wounded four U.S. soldiers in an attack last year. International peacekeepers could end up a priority target for ISIS since they could capture and/or kill members of the international coalition arrayed against them in Iraq and Syria. The Sinai Province of the Islamic State made a name for themselves when they destroyed a Russian Metrojet Airbus, killing all 224 people on board. Egypt has been resistant to heeding US advice in defeating ISIS. Instead of a sustained counterinsurgency program, Egypt has relied on airstrikes from US made fighter jets and helicopters. 

My Comment:
The Sinai Province of ISIS should have a bigger name for itself. After all the destruction of Metrojet Flight 9268 was a major victory for ISIS and one of the worst terrorist attacks in recent memory. However, the attack itself was largely forgotten about. Why? Well, the Paris attacks, with their higher levels of violence and dramatic images, managed to capture the attention of the public. A mass gun attack/bombing is more frightening then the destruction of a single airplane. 

The attack also wasn't confirmed to be a terrorist attack for quite some time. At first both Egypt and Russia played down reports that ISIS had taken credit for the attack. Very slowly, as details of the attack came out, more and more countries realized that the attack really was conducted by ISIS. By that point the world had moved on to other things. 

Also, the western media never wants us to feel sorry for Russians. It was mostly Russians that died in the attack and the idea that the United States and Russia could make common cause with the West against terrorism, well, that just won't do. 

All that being said, it's clear to me that ISIS in Egypt is still a major threat. I think there is a real chance of a terrorist attack sometime soon in the area targeting Westerners. The Washington Post article focused on attacks on international peacekeepers, and I agree that they are a major target. Killing, or worse, capturing a U.S. or allied solider would be a coup for ISIS, both in terms of media attention and propaganda. ISIS would love to get video of a soldier getting executed... 

The problem with that is that obviously soldiers are harder targets then civilians are. It's always a harder sell to attack people that can actually defend themselves, and the U.S. soldiers there can do so, even if they don't have the support an actual major deployment would have. Though we only have a few hundred troops in Egypt, they still are capable of defending themselves, at least compared to softer targets. 

Those soft targets are what I am really worried about. Egypt is a major tourist hub, and millions of tourists visit the country every year. Though the bigger attractions, like the Pyramids, have some security, it's unlikely that the entire country is a "hard target". The destruction of the Russian passenger jet proves at the very least that there were some major vulnerabilities in airport security at the very least.

And it is also possible that U.S. or European tourists or workers could be abducted. This has happened before. Last year ISIS killed a Croatian national by the name of Tomislav Salopek. Salopek's death has been criminally under reported in the west, but it goes to show that ISIS is capable of capturing westerners. Salopek was a contractor, not a tourist, but there are many foreign nationals in Egypt which could be targeted. 

Since the threat is so real, I wonder why there hasn't been more done to try and stop ISIS. Egypt has conducted a few airstrikes and conducted raids with Apache helicopters, but other then that they haven't done much. In my, admittedly limited, view it seems as though Egypt has been mostly reacting to ISIS moves in the area. Most of those strikes have been in response to ISIS attacks on checkpoints and bases. 

Should Egypt be more aggressive? Perhaps, but you have to remember that Egypt isn't the most stable of countries. Clamping down hard on ISIS could anger the normal citizens enough that they start up the cycle of revolution and counter revolution up again. Egypt may also be gun shy due to an incident last year where they accidentally killed a bunch of innocent tourists. That kind of mistake could make anyone think twice about cracking down. 

I do have to say that I don't know if I like the idea of withdrawing troops from Egypt just because ISIS is there. If our operations on the Egypt/Israeli border are important, then we should commit to it. If ISIS wants to fight us their we should give our troops the equipment and arms they need to defend themselves and to take the fight to the enemy. The idea of us taking troops out of Egypt just because they are under threat makes us seem weak. And it sends exactly the wrong message to ISIS and other terrorist groups... 

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