Egypt and Israel have thwarted an effort by the Obama administration to withdraw U.S. peacekeeping soldiers from the Sinai peninsula. Obama had recently floated the idea of reducing the U.S. presence in the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO).
However, both Egypt and Israel felt that the timing was wrong, given the advance of Islamic State worldwide. “We said this is not the proper time, during a war on terrorism. It would give jihadists the wrong message,” an unnamed Egyptian official told Reuters.
The 1,900-strong, 12-nation MFO is considered one of the most successful peacekeeping forces in the region. It was created after President Jimmy Carter brokered the Camp David peace accords in 1979. At the time, Egypt and Israel were staunch enemies. Today, they are partners against terrorism in the region. Palestinian Hamas, Islamic State, and a variety of other terror groups use the Sinai to smuggle weapons and stage attacks. A roadside bomb in September injured four American and two Fijian soldiers.
A Russian passenger jet was brought down over the Sinai in late October. Islamic State terrorists have claimed responsibility for the attack, and for another recent attack on a hotel. The Obama administration considered withdrawing U.S. troops in response.
The Associated Press reported in August: “The Obama administration is quietly reviewing the future of America’s three-decade deployment to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, fearful the lightly equipped peacekeepers could be targets of escalating Islamic State-inspired violence. Options range from beefing up their protection or even pulling them out altogether…”.
The fear is that the U.S. troops do not currently have the numbers or equipment necessary to take the fight directly to the Islamic State in the Sinai.
If it withdrew troops from the Sinai, the U.S. would have risked repeating the errors in the wake of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000. The failure to respond is thought to have encouraged Al Qaeda to attempt further attacks, including the attack of Sep. 11, 2001 on New York and Washington, D.C.
On Monday, meeting with French president François Hollande at the White House in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, President Barack Obama vowed to destroy Islamic State.