Egypt Reaches Out to Sahel Armies as ISIS Expands Presence

(Cairo) A training of Egyptian and Togolese troops has just wrapped up at a military base in western Egypt, with Cairo working hard to help Sahel and Sahara militaries be up to the security challenges facing them.

The training, part of the second phase of joint Sahel and Sahara military drills in Egypt, was completed at the Mohamed Naguib Military Base, near Egypt’s border with Libya on June 20 after seven days of activities.

Different Egyptian and Togolese army units attended the training, which included joint sessions aiming at unifying military concepts and the exchange of counterterrorism information and techniques.

Soldiers and officers attending the training also had conducted a series of joint counterterrorism activities, training in first aid, in the release of hostages, and in raiding terrorist hideouts.

“The training aims to strengthen counterterrorism cooperation between the countries participating in it,” said Salama al-Gouhari, a member of the Defense and National Security Committee in the Egyptian parliament. “This is important given the challenges facing the region.”

The training comes at a time when the Sahel and Sahara region is coming at the center of expansionist plans by a procession of terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

ISIS seeks new strongholds in Africa, having suffered repeated defeats in Iraq and Syria where the dream of establishing an Islamic caliphate has already evaporated.

A number of local terrorist groups in Sahel and Sahara states have already sworn allegiance to the presumed ISIS caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which is why his terrorist organization is finding it easy to expand to these states and gain presence.

These new ISIS allies are joining larger groups that have been active in the region for some time now, including Boko Haram, which is mainly active in Nigeria and its neighboring states.

There is a high probability of terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda and its affiliates, expanding in the Sahel and Sahara on a massive scale due to rampant poverty, deteriorating living conditions and the poor conditions of security agencies in the states of the region.

Egypt’s fear is that terrorist groups active in the Sahel and Sahara, and in the Horn of Africa, will get strong and then team up with others active in North Africa, especially in Libya.

Apart from posing threats to Europe across the Mediterranean, such a scenario will be very dangerous for Egypt, which shares a long border with Libya.

Libya has turned into a major security problem for Egypt, since it descended into chaos following the downfall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011. Terrorist groups active in Libya succeeded more than once in infiltrating the joint border into Egypt and staging attacks against Egyptian army troops and policemen. Egypt also says that most of the arms and explosives that fall into the hands of ISIS terrorists fighting the Egyptian army in Sinai, an Egyptian territory on the border with both the Palestinian Gaza Strip and Israel, come from Libya.

This is why Egypt is very keen on helping Sahel and Sahara militaries get strong so that they can counter the security challenges they are facing.

In June 2018, Egypt opened a regional Sahel and Sahara Anti-Terrorism Center in its new administrative capital on the outskirts of Cairo. The center will be a meeting point for military experts, commanders and strategists from the region, who will draw up counterterrorism plans with the aim of eradicating terrorist groups active in it.

In December last year, the Mohamed Naguib Base also hosted troops from Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso for the first phase of the Sahel and Sahara military training. The training focused on counterterrorism techniques and strategies.

“These troops come here with a clear message,” said Hamdi Bekheit, another member of the Defense and National Security Committee in the Egyptian parliament. “They want to tell terrorist groups that Sahel and Sahara national armies will not allow them to control the region and terrorize its peoples.”