The US military is reportedly considering pulling its peacekeeping force from a base in the northeastern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, partly because of the increasing threat from Islamic State group jihadists.
The Obama administration may order the movement of some US and international troops into the southern Sinai, and is discussing such a move with Egypt and Israel, according to a CNN report Tuesday.
The two Middle East countries signed a peace deal in 1979, agreeing that a Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission would monitor compliance.
There are 707 US troops in that mission, the largest contingent in the 12-nation force of some 1,600 soldiers.
Most of the peacekeepers are stationed at El-Gorah camp, near the Gaza Strip. Under the reported move, they would be transferred to a base near Sharm al-Sheikh, in the less-restive southern peninsula.
US officials, according to the CNN report, say that MFO soldiers can be replaced by unmanned sensing technology that can fulfill the duty of monitoring the Egyptian-Israeli border.
The Egyptian army has been battling to quell a four-year insurgency in the Sinai, which has grown fiercer since the group formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, founded in 2011, switched its allegiance to the Islamic State terror group late in 2014.
The IS branch has shown resilience, fending off daily airstrikes and land operations by Egyptian security forces.
Attacks on security personal and civilians have become frequent occurrences in the northern Sinai, including IEDs, kidnappings and raids on security checkpoints.
Israeli officials have expressed fears that the Islamic State fighters could also target southern Israel along the border, which has been mostly quiet since a spate of attacks in 2012.
The frequency of IS attacks and ease with which the group seems to move around northern Sinai have already led the MFO to leave some of its smaller positions near Gaza.
Last September, four US troops were injured by an IED attack. The US then added an additional 75 servicemen to their ranks in the Sinai help boost security.
The US troops in the Sinai are not intended to participate in the fight against the Islamic State.
The move would echo a similar troop pullback on the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights as jihadists began kidnapping peacekeepers there. Israel has lobbied for the UN force, in place since 1973, to be redeployed there.
Last February, however, following the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai believed to be the work of the terror group, the US began mulling using its troops for reconnaissance work against the Islamic State in Sinai, according to CNN.