Egypt faces tough options in fight against militancy

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Egypt faces tough options in fight against militancy
Ismailia governor Yassin Taher visits a victim of the Rawdah mosque attack at local a hospital on Sunday.

Cairo - The area has been under emergency law for several years and the entire country since April


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Published: Sun 26 Nov 2017, 9:11 PM

Last updated: Wed 29 Nov 2017, 10:53 AM

The scale of the bloodshed was vastly higher than past militant attacks but the Egyptian government response the same: three days of mourning, reassuring messages in the media that things are under control, and the president promising vengeance.
The identical pattern in the aftermath of Friday's attack on a mosque in Sinai, which killed 305 people, raises the question whether Egypt has any options left in the fight against militants.
The military has thrown tanks, fighting vehicles, fighter-jets, warships and helicopter gunships along with tens of thousands of security forces in three years of conflict with extremists, including an affiliate of the Daesh group in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.
The area has been under emergency law for several years and the entire country since April. Security forces have forcibly evacuated areas adjacent to the border with Gaza, razing residents' houses and farmlands.
They have blown up underground tunnels that authorities believe militants used to smuggle weapons and fighters in from neighboring Gaza, ruled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
These measures have shown few tangible results.
The firepower and troop deployments in Sinai have kept militants from holding territory but have not prevented them from carrying out assassinations that terrorise the population and launching deadly attacks on military and police posts and convoys and recently a daylight robbery in Sinai's largest town.
There is little public discussion of how to conduct the war.
The closest authorities came to admitting shortcomings was last month when El Sisi removed the armed forces' chief of staff and top police generals after a planned attack on militants in the Western Desert went disastrously wrong. The operation left over a dozen counterterrorism police officers dead.
It also illustrated the problem posed by Egypt's long desert border with Libya through which weapons and fighters can be smuggled. That has fueled a second front of militant violence in the west, with signs of arms movements to the Sinai extremists. Egypt's response has been in line with a longstanding model of fighting a conventional war against an opposing army.
El Sisi recently said security forces are hampered by the presence of civilians in Sinai, requiring extreme caution which benefits the insurgents. At the same time, the militants brutally intimidate residents from cooperating with security forces, kidnapping suspected collaborators and dumping their decapitated bodies on the streets of El Arish, Rafah and other north Sinai towns for all to see.

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