|Graveyard for the Nazi North African Campaign.|
The gift that just keeps giving
- Ain't life just fucking grand? Nazi land minds are being dug up and used by ISIS and other Jihadi groups.
(Newsweek) - Even at the height of summer, when the upper crust of Cairo descends on the nearby Mediterranean coast, the world’s largest open-air armory is a bleak place. With up to 17 million land mines buried in the sands of northwest Egypt, no one can set foot beyond the carefully demarcated boundaries for fear of losing a limb—or their life. Home to what’s likely the world’s largest unexploded minefield, the area is an eerie reminder of the ferocity of World War II.
It saw serious action in the early 1940s as the British sought to stymie the advance of Nazi Army General Erwin Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps, and the German, British and Italian armies buried millions of tons of explosives as they battled one another across North Africa. But until recently, the minefields of the Sahara posed a problem mainly for local Bedouins, who are among the few who live in the area; since 2006, they’ve suffered more than 150 casualties.
|Soldiers of the Afrika Korps in Tripoli, 1941|
Over the past few years, however, these munitions have become part of a new and worrisome trend. As the Islamic State and other jihadi groups have grown throughout the region, sometimes roaming unchecked across long, porous borders, a few have realized the potential power of this massive cache of explosives, much of it buried here by the Nazis.
Military and civilian officials in Cairo say ISIS and other groups have already MacGyvered these decades-old mines, using their components for bombs, improvised explosive devices (IED) and other instruments of death. “We’ve had at least 10 reports from the military of terrorists using old mines, says Fathy el-Shazly, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who until recently served as Egypt’s land mine clearance czar. “Even now, these things trouble us in different ways.”
The phenomenon, he says, began in 2004, when extremists killed 34 people in the Sinai resort of Taba with seven bombs crafted from old munitions, and has become relatively common practice as security has devolved in parts of Egypt, especially since Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the country’s most prolific homegrown jihadi group, pledged allegiance to ISIS in late 2014.
But for groups like ISIS’s fledgling affiliate that operates in Egypt’s vast arid interior, as well as in neighboring Libya, where ISIS also has a foothold, a bomb is a bomb. With periodic supply problems and an exceptional quantity of large anti-tank mines rich in explosives seemingly readily available, the temptation to pilfer the relics of Hitler’s war has proved too tantalizing to resist.
Most recently, in March, a jihadi IED attack on an army convoy near Egypt’s Red Sea coast that killed five soldiers was blamed on explosives purloined from old mines. Military officials, who recently received a delivery of more than 700 mine-resistant vehicles from the U.S. to help them combat an insurgency in North Sinai, are trying to ward off the threat, with mixed results.
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|Africa Korps soldiers|
|General Erwin Rommel and his "Afrika Korps"|
|PzKpfw IV from Deutsches Afrikakorps|