A media investigation has alleged that classified documents show that a secret French military intelligence operation may have supported the Egyptian Air Force in targeting civilians under the guise of fighting terrorism. The documents appear to expose how the French government knew about the operation along Egypt’s western border with Libya but failed to investigate.
Disclose, an investigative news site, reported on November 21 that the previously undisclosed French operation in Egypt began in February 2016 when a team of ten active French military and ex-military personnel were sent to Egypt’s western desert equipped with light surveillance aircraft with the mission of identifying terrorist activity originating in Libya.
The mission reportedly followed an Egyptian request in 2015 for aerial intelligence assistance along the Libyan border. France’s then defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, agreed to set up “operational and immediate cooperation” with Egypt as part of the global fight against terrorism.
According to the report, reconnaissance of terrorist activity quickly mutated into a mission that effectively assisted the Egyptian government’s extrajudicial executions in the region against alleged traffickers. The French team purportedly provided a stream of surveillance information to the Egyptian Air Force, which may have led to at least 19 airstrikes with casualties between 2016 and 2018.
Reports sent to the Élysée Palace appear to detail concerns that the proper identification of pick-up trucks in the area could not be made “without a separate element of surveillance other than the initial overflight of which they were the subject.” According to the documents published by Disclose, the military intelligence informed French armed forces minister Florence Parly that “known cases of the destruction of targets detected by the aircraft are established.”
On November 22 an investigation “into the information disseminated by Disclose” was announced by the French Ministry of Armed Forces. However, it was unclear whether the investigation would focus on the origins of the leaks themselves or the allegations contained therein.
France has previously aided the Egyptian government’s appalling human rights record. Egypt is among France’s top arms clients and France continues to sign major arms deals with Sisi’s government – also under a pretext of security and fighting terrorism – despite evidence that some of these weapons had been used to violently suppress protests and commit other human rights violations.
France should immediately investigate the allegations made by Disclose into the reconnaissance mission in Egypt’s western desert and suspend all sales of security-related assistance to the Egyptian government.