President Barack Obama announced that he and the top military officials in the Pentagon are looking for ways to increase the pressure on Islamic State. Yet a report from CNN’s Barbara Starr Tuesday claims that his administration is now considering removing U.S. troops from a key potential ISIS stronghold.
While ISIS’ primary holdings are in parts of Syria and Iraq, the terrorist group also has a major presence in the northern Sinai region of Egypt, which borders the south of Israel. As part of a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt signed in 1979, the U.S. has stationed a military contingent in the once-disputed Sinai region. The proposed removal would involve sending the troops stationed in the area to the southern part of the region — away from ISIS forces.
The Pentagon claims that the potential shift would still allow the U.S. to fulfill the obligations of the ceasefire.
“The [Pentagon] supports the role being played by the Multinational Force and Observers [MFO] in supporting the Treaty of Peace between Israel and Egypt,” said Department of Defense spokesman Christopher Sherwood, according to CNN. “We are in continuous contact with the MFO and adjust force protection capabilities as conditions warrant.”
The same day the report was released, Obama announced after his meeting with military officials “we’ve got to keep putting putting pressure on them [ISIS].” The meeting appears to have been focused on continuing the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, despite the terrorist group’s continued presence in Libya, Sinai, Yemen, Afghanistan and Indonesia.
The ISIS contingent in northern Sinai, known as Wilayat Sinai or Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, is believed to number anywhere between several hundreds to 1,000 members. The group has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Egypt and is believed to have ties to Hamas in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, which borders northern Sinai.
The Egyptian military, at the behest of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has been trying to root out the ISIS contingent in the Sinai for over a year with little success.
The relationship between Obama and el-Sisi is tenuous at best. Obama praised former Islamist Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Al-Sisi’s predecessor who was ousted by military officials in 2013. Al-Sisi and Obama have only met once since, and Obama is reported to have snubbed a meeting with Egyptian leader last September.
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