From a distance, the ISIS-inspired bloodshed in the Sinai Peninsula looks fresh and menacing, but the former Canadian commander of the multinational peacekeeping force in the region says the conflict looks awfully familiar.
The violence, which flared up again last weekend near Rafah, along the border with Gaza, carries with it an echo of Afghanistan, said Maj.-Gen. Denis Thompson.
‘They are globally inspired local insurgents.’
– Maj.-Gen. Denis Thompson
Many of the social, economic and cultural conditions that fuel the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan are present in the increasingly troubled desert region between Egypt and Israel, Thompson said.
And, he added, while it doesn’t make the news all that often in the Western media, the Egyptian army is fighting a fierce insurgency that appears to be more of a franchise for the Islamic State than deeply rooted extension of the self-described caliphate.
“They are globally inspired local insurgents,” Thompson told CBC News in a recent interview. “And their effort is really to use the [ISIS] brand to attract recruits, and locally they’re trying to redress many long-standing grievances they have with the Egyptian government.”
It is an important point for Canadian policy-makers and the public to understand, given that Canada’s contingent in the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) is this country’s largest peacekeeping mission and one that has become steadily more perilous over the past three years.
Last year, Canada’s top military commander warned that the mission, which Canada first contributed to in 1985, was growing more violent and perhaps less viable.
Gen. Jonathan Vance made the comment as the Liberal government began crafting its new defence policy around promises to return the military to more benevolent UN-flagged operations.
There are roughly 70 Canadian troops among the 1,300 soldiers from 12 nations that make up the MFO force, which operates outside of the United Nations peacekeeping framework and was established as part of the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel in the late 1970s.
Mission became more dangerous
It was — until the autumn of 2014 — a relatively benign assignment.
“The mission evolved because of the introduction of a non-state actor known as the Islamic State,” said Thompson, who served as the Canadian task force commander in Kandahar in 2008-09, as fighting with the Taliban hit a peak.
The parallels struck him almost immediately.
The northeast Sinai is heavily populated by displaced Palestinians and disaffected Bedouin tribes, three of which have major grievances against the Egyptian government. A local insurgency, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem),…