U.S. peacekeepers in Sinai could add ISIS intel duty

Story highlights

  • The Pentagon is mulling whether to use U.S. troops in the Sinai Peninsula to gather intelligence about the local ISIS affiliate
  • In September, four U.S. troops were injured in a roadside IED attack believed to have been carried out by the ISIS affiliate in Sinai

(CNN)With ISIS on the rise in the Sinai Peninsula, the Pentagon is having internal discussions to consider whether U.S. troops stationed there could be used to gather intelligence about the local ISIS affiliate, CNN has learned.

The discussions are in the very preliminary stage and no formal options have been sent to the White House, a Defense official told CNN.
But it's raising the prospect that the approximately 700 U.S. troops in the Sinai Peninsula could get an additional mission to their current peacekeeping duties.
U.S. troops have been based in Sinai for decades as part of the Multinational Force and Observers mission under the Camp David peace accords signed by Egypt and Israel in 1979. Under that and subsequent agreements, the troops monitor border guards and other military activity. The monitoring has included checkpoints and observation posts in Sinai, but not combat.
Because the idea to also monitor ISIS is in the preliminary stages, it's not clear how the U.S. mission would be impacted by taking on the new task.
But, the Defense official noted, since the troops are already conducting reconnaissance and surveillance in the areas of Sinai where they are stationed, it would not be difficult to expand their portfolio, using aerial and ground surveillance capabilities.
Presumably, both Egypt and Israel would have to agree to any new duties, the official said. But it's well understood that those two countries, along with Jordan, are increasingly concerned about ISIS and other militants groups in Sinai.
While the U.S. troops in Sinai are not combat troops, they have been at risk from militants in the region.
In September, four U.S. troops were injured in a roadside IED attack believed to have been carried out by the ISIS affiliate in Sinai. It was not clear if the U.S. personnel were the intended target. But after that incident, 75 additional U.S. troops arrived along with armored personnel carriers, communications gear and medical equipment in order to provide additional security and force protection.
The Russian airliner brought down by Sharm el Sheikh at the southern end of the peninsula in October raised worldwide concerns about ISIS's threat to aviation, raising another reason to more closely monitor their activity.
Right now, the U.S. views ISIS in Sinai as an affiliate of ISIS, but perhaps not a full blown "branch" of the organization taking direct orders from ISIS in Raqqa. But after the Russian airliner was brought down, there was communication between elements in Sinai and those in Syria, raising concerns about ISIS's strengthening power in Sinai.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that there are U.S. troops based near Sharm el Sheikh as well as other parts of the Sinai.