Egypt’s Minister of Defense announced on Friday the creation of a new counter-terrorism unit from 28 Sahel and Saharan countries, with its headquarters to be located in Egypt. The new unit will share intelligence, carry out joint border controls to combat terrorism, and undertake other measures to curb trans-border crime. Established in 1998, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) is primarily a trade bloc, but terrorism has spread across much of North Africa in the past few years (and hit new targets in the past few months), necessitating a unified response.
Additionally, president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced that Egypt would offer 1,000 scholarships for CEN-SAD nationals to study at his country’s military schools. As if to drive home the theme of Egypt’s counterterrorism prowess, military airstrikes against the Sinai branch of ISIS on Friday were reported to have killed 60 and injured another 40.
Following the military ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, jihadist violence has wracked North Sinai. An estimated 2,100 people were killed there last year, including (according to the military) roughly 1,800 terrorists, 150 civilians, 40 police officers and conscripts, and 140 military personnel.
This year Egypt has seen a rise in terrorist attacks – like the Sinai branch’s one last week that killed 15 policemen in North Sinai – and the government has escalated its operations. See Blouin News’ recent feature on Egypt five years after the fall of Mubarak, including the impact of the festering Sinai ISIS insurgency.
Greater regional cooperation to defeat terrorism (which knows no borders) could make a big difference, especially for the poorer states that don’t have many resources to spare. It is a welcome step that could prevent future attacks.
For a broader look at the region’s turmoil, check out the video from last year’s Blouin Creative Leadership Summit panel, Outlook: Middle East.