The Egyptian armed forces Monday, Sept. 30, launched an offensive to confront Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies for the first time in their lofty strongholds in the rugged central Sinai range of Jabal al-Halal, DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and counter terror sources disclose.
Until now, the Egyptian military and security forces, fought the terrorists in northern Sinai, but held back from braving them in the citadel they have dubbed the “Tora Bora of Sinai,” after the site of Osama bin Laden’s last stand in Afghanistan in 2011 against the American army.
The topography is similar: rocky peaks riddled with twisting wadis fringed with dense vegetation that conceal hundreds of natural caves, some inter-connected by tunnels. Terrorists familiar with this mazelike terrain pass easily between the caves invisible to attackers from the air.
The Jabal al-Halal mountain range has no proper roads, only narrow precipitous paths and trails, which are watched at all times by Al Qaeda sentinels posted above and are inaccessible to tanks and armored personnel carriers.
The Egyptian army tried once in the past to deploy armored forces against those mountain strongholds, only to be thrown back by a concerted onslaught of anti-tank fire by 3,000 armed men barricaded there.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that for the new offensive, Egypt is fielding a mechanized brigade, 3 commando battalions, an artillery unit armed with heavy 120mm mortars and a squadron of Apache attack helicopters. They are drawing on US and Israeli intelligence for assistance.