A defense official confirmed today that high-level discussions are under way to decide whether U.S. forces will be pulled out of the Sinai peninsula because of the danger posed by ISIS.
About 700 troops are currently part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission in the region established by the 1979 peace deal.
Joint Staff Vice Director for Operations Rear Adm. Andrew Lewis told reporters at the Pentagon today that reports stating two outposts outside the northern camp in the Sinai had been closed were incorrect.
“Operationally, we have people there that are committed to the mission. And my focus is making sure that they have the force protection measures in place and we have increased the force protection measures in MFO Sinai, to ensure their maximum safety,” Lewis said.
The admiral said there are no plans in place, but “those discussions are happening…whether to pull them out or not” within the U.S. government and the governments of Israel and Egypt. “And on those discussions are happening at the very highest levels,” he added.
ISIS claimed responsibility for taking down a Russian airliner over the desert on Halloween, and later published in Dabiq magazine photos of what ISIS says was the bomb — constructed out of a soda can.
Nearly a month later, ISIS attacked a hotel in al-Arish, killing several people by means of a car bomb, a suicide bomber and a gunman.
The once-bustling tourism industry at the resort has been devastated.
ISIS has conducted a heavy recruiting campaign targeted at Egyptians, arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t done enough to topple President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
They’ve promised that they have a contingent of suicide bombers and a weapons stockpile to go after “the Egyptian army collaborator with the Zionists in the Sinai.”
ISIS said this time last year that they were under “huge pressure” to accept new recruits in the Sinai but building “strong organizational structure” was their first priority.
At the end of last year, they released photos of special sniper squad training in the region.
At the State Department today, spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. remains “fully committed to our multinational force and observers mission and the maintenance of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.”
“So no change in policy; no change in our force structure or whatever,” Toner said. “The same structure, the same footprint.”
Just in the past week, one bombing in the North Sinai city of Arish killed a policeman and a civilian, according to Egypt’s Al-Ahram, and Assistant Security Director of North Sinai Yasser Hafez was wounded by a roadside bomb.