Egypt is no longer sovereign in the Sinai Peninsula. Islamic State terrorists, moving freely throughout the Sinai’s Northern Province, have been delivering stinging defeats on Egypt’s military and police convoys. The November 24 mass murder of Sufi Muslim worshippers by radical Sunni terrorists in the Northern Sinai Province underlines the Egyptian government’s loss of control in the area. If Cairo changes its tactics and strategy, however, the Sinai can be saved.
Initially, Islamic State terrorists in the Sinai Desert feasted on soft targets, such as Coptic Christian communities and local, lightly defended, police stations. The Egyptian military’s inability to prevent these attacks or subdue jihadist forces simply emboldened the terrorists. In mid-October, Islamic State jihadists even robbed a bank in the northern Sinai’s provincial capital, El-Arish, making off with about a million dollars to help finance their anti-government campaign. Large tracts of the northern Sinai are slipping out of Egypt’s control due to the military inefficiencies and counterproductive policies of government security forces.
These shortcomings include an unwillingness to change tactics, ineffective weapon systems for desert combat, and lack of proper logistical support. The troop convoys sent into the desert are “red meat” for the jihadists, “who mount sophisticated multi-tiered attacks and employ snipers to demoralize security forces.”
The jihadists station their lookouts atop high desert sand dunes to monitor the approach of security forces; convoys are visible from miles away. On one occasion, the terrorists were seemingly able to lure security forces into an ambush.