The Army will send an additional 75 soldiers to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt in response to security concerns for U.S. forces stationed there after an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated last week, injuring seven personnel.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook confirmed that the additional troops, along with maneuver and medical equipment will be sent as backup for the U.S. contingent of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), a cadre of international troops stationed in Egypt to keep the peace between that nation and Israel. About 750 U.S. troops currently are assigned to the MFO as part of Task Force Sinai.
“We have some active measures to increase force protection…regarding the Multinational Force and Observers mission in the Sinai,” Cook said during a press conference at the Pentagon on Thursday.
The deployment decision comes a week after the Pentagon announced that on its own dime, it would evacuate family members of U.S. troops stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and from the U.S. consulate in Adana.
“The families of U.S. personnel posted to Consulate Adana or Incirlik Air Base would have the option to depart Turkey at government expense,” Cook said at a previous briefing with reporters. “Those family members who wish to remain in Turkey are free to do so at this time. This decision was made out of an abundance of caution following the commencement of military operations out of Incirlik Air Base.”
Incirlik had been closed to U.S. use until recently when an agreement was reached to allow U.S. aircraft access to the facility in support of the air campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. At least six U.S. Air Force jets currently are flying out of Incirlik, according to the Defense Department.
The Sinai deploying forces consist of a light infantry platoon, forward surgical teams and “other capabilities that will bolster and enhance the mission of the MFO and increase the safety and security of U.S. forces,” Cook said.
For security reasons, Cook would not discuss when the troops would deploy. Cook said the move was not specifically in response to the Sept. 3 IED attack, but was one of several options being mulled as a response to rising tensions in the Sinai, where Islamic State sympathizers have launched large-scale attacks of late.
“We have been in discussions with key stakeholders regarding plans to increase force protection since early August, and continue to stay in contact with the MFO to adjust force protection capabilities as conditions warrant,” Cook said.
Reports indicate that a vehicle occupied by two international MFO troops from Fiji was struck by an IED. Four U.S. troops were injured in a secondary explosion while coming to the aid of those troops. All were transported by air to a nearby hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
The Defense Department has launched an ongoing review of the need to station troops in Sinai, which is under pressure from ISIS-affiliated groups.
“We continue to support the role being played by the multinational force and observers in supporting the treaty at peace between Israel and Egypt,” Cook said Tuesday. “We are concerned over security conditions in that area of the northeastern Sinai, where Egyptian security forces, as well as civilian and military elements of the MFO, including U.S. military forces stationed at the MFO north camp, are exposed to potential risk. In light of the security situation there, we are, again, considering additional measures to bolster their protection going forward, taking steps to try and enhance their protection.”
The MFO on Sept. 6 removed its personnel from a remote site in the Northeast Sinai as a “result of an inability to safely resupply the site and continue conduct of its mission from that location,” the MFO said in a statement.
The site, MFO Checkpoint 1-F, is located in the Fiji Battalion’s sector of operation.