Special Operations: The Unit 777 Mystery


April 20, 2009: Kidnapping continues to be rampant in unstable areas of the world. The problem appears to be spilling over from war-torn countries and into some that are generally deemed to be relatively safe. One of these countries is Egypt. For the past decade or so, Egyptian security forces have managed to keep a tight lid on major terrorist activity, thus avoiding the kind of disorder that has plagued Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Iraq. However, Egypt borders Sudan to the south, and some Sudanese problems are bleeding into Egypt. 

Last year, a group of European tourists were kidnapped and held for ransom by Sudanese gunmen while on a safari in the western desert. The hostages were later freed unharmed. It is unclear exactly how the hostages were released and this has highlighted some major shortcomings in the Egyptians’ attitudes towards tackling lawlessness in their border regions. The Egyptian government adamantly claims that Egyptian special forces freed the hostages after a “daring pre-dawn raid” during which half the kidnappers were killed with no casualties suffered. European news agencies disputed the claims, reporting that it was unclear who exactly had freed the hostages. 

The Egyptian government has a vested interest in manipulating the truth about the situation for several reasons. First, the Egyptian government wants to be known as a country that can capably handle terrorist problems with professionalism and expertise. This would give them credibility and respect in the world community and earn them a reputation of having counter-terrorist forces that can “get the job done” on a par with Western nations. Additionally, the key Egyptian counter-terror organization, known as Unit 777, have a less than stellar track record in storming hijacked planes and rescuing victims of terrorism, having bungled a major operation on Cyprus decades ago which left many hostages killed or wounded. In fact, during the operation, the Egyptians had failed to notify the Cyprus security forces that they would be conducting the rescue operation and became involved in a deadly firefight with Cypriot authorities, who believed the commandos were terrorist reinforcements. The Egyptians are eager to salvage their reputation. 

Secondly, Egypt fears developing a reputation once again as an unsafe country, seeing as most of their economy relies on tourism. If Egypt becomes unsafe and, worse, the attitude persists that Egyptian forces can’t bring a terrorist situation to a satisfactory conclusion, Europeans, Americans, and their money are likely to go elsewhere. At the present time, it is unclear precisely how good Egypt’s anti-terror forces are, seeing as the Egyptian government keeps a tight lid on military and security matters, being suspicious of espionage. It is estimated that Unit 777 consists of about 230 soldiers and undergoes the typical curriculum of anti-terror training. Unit 777 trains with Western forces annually during the Bright Star exercises and this may have gone some way towards improving their effectiveness. But until they have a public concrete opportunity to show what they can do, it's all speculation. -- Rory Walkinshaw



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