U. S. reviewing Sinai peacekeeper mission, may automatize jobs

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 2:35 AM

S. military said on Tuesday it's formally notified Egypt and Israel that it's reviewing whether to automatize aspects of multinational peacekeeping operations in the insurgency-wracked Sinai, potentially allowing a reduction in American troop deployments.

The U. S. military said on Tuesday it's formally notified Egypt and Israel that it's reviewing whether to automatize aspects of multinational peacekeeping operations in the insurgency-wracked Sinai, potentially allowing a reduction in American troop deployments.

U. S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said using remote surveillance technology could eventually authorize the United States to withdraw hundreds of its roughly seven hundred peacekeeping troops.

Installed to monitor the demilitarization of the Sinai below the one thousand nine hundred seventy-nine Egyptian-Israeli peace accord, the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission has arrive below increased scrutiny over the past year, particularly after six peacekeepers were wounded by a roadside bomb in September. Four U. S. soldiers were among them.

The United States believes that the structure of the more than three-decade elderly operation may be outdated.

"I don't think anyone'south talking about a (complete) withdrawal," said Navy Capt Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, declining to discuss specifics about any potential troop reduction.

"I think we're just going to see at the no of people we've there and look if there are functions that can be automated or done through remote monitoring."

Changing the MFO mission could be a sensitive proposition to both Israel and Egypt.

Cairo sees the MFO as portion of a relationship with Israel that, while unpopular with many Egyptians, brings it $1.3 billion in annual U. S. defense aid, sweetening the foreign-enforced demilitarization of their sovereign Sinai territory.

For the Israelis, the MFO offers strategic reassurance, particularly following Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi'south toppling two years ago of an elected Islamist regime hostile to the Jewish-majority state next door.

The White House stressed that the United States wasn't questioning its support for the mission.

"The U. S. commitment to this treaty and this mission has never been stronger, and that'south evidenced by the fact that the United States government is prepared to deploy new equipment and new technology," White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Among the options being considered are utilize of remote sensors or surveillance to do some of the work in the peninsula that lies between Israel, the Gaza Strip and the Suez Canal.

"What we're looking at is, this has been in existence for thirty years and the mission has remained largely unchanged," Davis said.

"What we wish to be able to do is see at the core things that that mission provides and look how we can leverage modern technologies, remote surveillance capabilities, etc., to be able to carry out that mission."

Egyptian security efforts in the Sinai have suffered major setbacks, including the Oct. thirty-one downing of a Russian airliner and Friday'south bombing of two armored personnel carriers that killed seven.

Islamic State insurgents claimed responsibility for both incidents.

An Egyptian diplomat, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said over the past mo the MFO had already close down two outposts close Egyptian Rafah.

The area hasn't been particularly tough hit by the Sinai insurgency, the diplomat said, but added that the MFO "considered them too challenging to support in terms of logistics."

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; extra reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Diona Chiacu, David Alexander and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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