Egypt’s military is carrying out operations against Islamic State fighters in the Sinai Peninsula, according to the top U.S. general.
“The Egyptians are taking the fight to the Islamic State right now,” General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a small group of reporters Thursday aboard a military aircraft en route from Brussels to the United States.
Dunford said he was looking forward to hearing the results of Egypt’s operations in the Sinai upon landing. He was unable to provide further details.
The U.S. estimates the number of IS fighters there to be in the high hundreds — up to about 1,000.
There also is a “sizable Bedouin insurgency” in the Sinai that has cooperated with IS fighters, the general added.
The U.S. military has started to see connections between fighters in the Sinai, once viewed as an isolated force, and Islamic State militants across the Middle East.
“We have seen a connection between the Islamic State in the Sinai and Raqqah,” Dunford told reporters. “We have seen communication between the Islamic State in the Sinai and the Islamic State in Libya and elsewhere, so we are watching that pretty closely.”
News of Egypt’s anti-IS operation in the Sinai came as the U.S. and NATO allies mull the possibility of training and equipping fighters in neighboring Libya.
The general said any training mission likely would be Italian-led and limited in scope.
“I don’t mean limited as in small,” he said, “but there’ll be a finite timeline on it and finite capacity once it’s agreed upon with the GNA [Government of National Accord in Libya].”
Officials are discussing how best to support the GNA and provide aid against Islamic State forces in the country.
“There’s a lot of activity going on beneath the surface. We just aren’t ready to deploy,” Dunford said.
There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 Islamic State fighters in Libya.