WASHINGTON: The Pentagon is considering ways it could automate aspects of its peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula, possibly reducing the number of troops deployed to an area struggling with the rise of an Islamic State faction, officials said Tuesday.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently notified officials in Israel and Egypt that the U.S. is reviewing its role in the Multinational Force and Observers, or MFO, which monitors compliance with the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Davis said the U.S. has about 700 troops there.
Davis said the U.S. has signaled its desire to discuss the mission with Egypt and Israel, but is not considering withdrawing entirely. He said the mission has changed very little over the decades, even as new military technologies have come into use that could automate some aspects.
Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, called the U.S. review “part of an ongoing effort … to look at how to modernize” the observer mission by using technology or improving efficiency.
“Whether and how significant a force reduction that will entail I can’t speak to at this point in time,” Toner said. But he added: “In no way does it speak to a lessening in our commitment to the objective of the MFO mission.”
Last summer, the U.S. beefed up its presence in the Sinai with dozens of additional troops and support equipment to improve protection for the force in the aftermath of a roadside bomb attack that wounded four U.S. soldiers.
Sinai has been plagued for years by an insurgency, which escalated after the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi amid mass protests against him. A Sinai-based IS affiliate has targeted Egyptian troops in Sinai and claimed responsibility for the Oct. 31 downing of a Russian airliner that killed 224 people.