A bloody year in Sinai
On 24 November 2017 Egypt endured the deadliest militant attack in its modern history. In Bir al-Abed in the northern Sinai peninsula, dozens of militants belonging to the Islamic State-affiliated group Wilayat Sinai surrounded the Rawda mosque and opened fire on the worshippers inside. When the attack was over 305 lay dead, 27 of whom were children.
In response to the attack, Egypt’s president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi pledged to use "brutal force" to stamp out the insurgency, which has plagued the Sinai since 2011, and launched a military campaign, Operation Sinai 2018. Egypt’s armed forces cut off the main cities and roads of North Sinai, carried out air-strikes and naval patrols and conducted widespread electronic and communications surveillance. The armed forces claims more than 450 militants have been killed since the beginning of the campaign earlier this year.
While the Egyptian government has presented Sinai 2018 as a "decisive blow" against the jihadist militants that operate in North Sinai, critics say the campaign is just another failed attempt to force a military solution to the crisis – which has been tried and failed before.
Driving the jihadists deeper into militancy
Despite the new campaign the jihadist insurgency continues. "It has driven them deeper into militancy," said an Egyptian military analyst who spoke to Qantara.de about the Egyptian military campaign on condition of anonymity.
In the first two weeks of November alone, Wilayat Sinai claimed responsibility for eight separate attacks in North Sinai. On 15 November, the group released a 42-minute video showcasing its recent operations. The images showed IED attacks on soldiers, jihadist militants operating checkpoints in North Sinai, as well as the group using a U.S.-made M60 Patton tank presumably captured from the Egyptian security services.
The Egyptian governmentʹs claims about the number of Wilayat Sinai fighters it has killed may point to why the attacks continue at such a pace. The number of fighters the government has claimed it has killed over the past six years is several times the size of Wilayat Sinai, which is estimated to field around 1000 fighters.
"Egyptian security forces tend to inflate their successes and will often attempt to cover up their failures by pointing to puffed up enemy killed statistics," said the Egyptian militant analyst contacted by Qantara.de. "I find it incredibly difficult to believe theyʹve killed over half their combat strength."