Sinai carnage presses Egypt to seek new alliance with tribes

Sinai carnage presses Egypt to seek new alliance with tribes
From Reuters - November 29, 2017

NORTH SINAI, Egypt (Reuters) - An attack that killed more than 300 people in North Sinai has prompted Egyptian officials to renew efforts to enlist local tribes whose support will be critical in attempts to defeat Islamic State, security and military sources said.

Brandishing an Islamic State flag, masked men in military-style uniforms fired on worshippers at a village mosque on Friday in the worst such bloodshed in modern Egyptian history.

It was a dramatic setback for the military, which has been fighting militant groups in the Sinai peninsula for years with air strikes, ground assaults and mass arrests, while hundreds of police and soldiers have been killed.

Lacking sufficient counter-insurgency skills, the army began recruiting tribesmen three years ago, hoping their mastery of the Sinais inhospitable terrain would provide intelligence on the militants and their arms smuggling routes.

That campaign has produced limited results and the latest bloodshed will pressure the army to secure better cooperation from tribal leaders despite some gains against Islamic State this year.

No group has claimed responsibility for Fridays assault, whose brutality shocked Egyptians.


On Wednesday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered themilitary to secure the Sinai within the next three months. You can use all brute force necessary, he said.

Tribes in the Sinai vowed to unite and join forces with the army after fellow Bedouins were killed in Fridays carnage.

But such declarations by Sinai tribes -- which accuse the Cairo government of treating them like second-class citizens -- have in the past produced limited results. In addition, tribesmen remain divided over feuds and other local issues.

The Egyptian military has more than enough weapons. The biggest issue when it comes to doing anything in the Sinai is to make sure they have good intelligence, said HA Hellyer, an Egypt expert and senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

If it is going to be a counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency set of strategies, that will necessitate involvement from the tribes at a very significant level.

Three security and military sources said that over the past two days talks had been held between security officials and tribal leaders in north and central Sinai.

Those security officials said greater coordination and cooperation were needed to defeat the militants. The tribes were divided into five groups and security officials sat separately with each group.

We asked them to help us to control the militants in the areas that they live, farm and move in, because each tribe knows its own people best, said one of the sources.

There are many things that make them cooperate with us and they vary from each tribe to the next. Thats why we sat separately with each tribe. One tribe needs services, and there is economic cooperation on projects with another tribe.

A spokesman for the military said it had made no statement on tribal affairs in Sinai and he could not comment


Alliances with tribes have succeeded in other countries facing serious extremist threats -- under the right conditions.

In 2006, Sunni tribesmen joined forces with U.S. troops in Iraq and rebelled against al Qaeda in what became known as the Sahwa, or Awakening.

By January 2009, Washington had invested more than $400 million in the Awakening program, according to U.S. data. Fighters were paid as much as $300-400 a month.



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