Editor’s note: The number of casualties has been updated due to changing information from MFO.
JERUSALEM — A helicopter belonging to an international peacekeeping force has crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing five US. Army soldiers among seven dead, according to an Army official.
“It is with great sadness we confirm five U.S. Army Soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash while supporting the United Nations Multinational Force and Observers (MFO),” an Army official told Military Times. “Once all Next of Kin have been notified, we will provide additional information.”
A defense official confirmed local reports to Military Times that there is “zero indication of malicious activity” involved in the crash. The units and service branches of those killed have not yet been released, but roughly 400 National Guardsmen participate in an observer mission in the peninsula region.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss on November 12, 2020, of seven of our uniformed military colleagues from three countries who died in a helicopter crash during a routine mission,” MFO officials said in a statement. “This included one Czech, one French, and five U.S. MFO members, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of these soldiers at this difficult time. We wish the one U.S. MFO Member who survived the crash a speedy recovery.”
A full investigation of the cause of the crash, which appears to be mechanical in nature, has been launched, according to MFO.
“We greatly appreciate the cooperation and support of Egypt and Israel,” MFO said in its release. “The incident is a reminder of the sacrifices MFO Members make in support of the cause of peace.”
In a tweet, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller confirmed those killed were all service members. However, the tweet appeared before MFO officials again revised the number of those killed.
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“Yesterday we recognized the sacrifice of millions of American veterans who have defended our nation for generations, and today we are tragically reminded of the last full measure our uniformed warriors may pay for their service,” Miller said in a statement also released by the Pentagon.
“I extend the Department’s condolences to the families, friends and teammates of these service members,” Miller added in the statement.
The Defense Department later updated that tweet Thursday evening.
The initial operational reports of the loss of 6 US service members is incorrect, the DOD sadly lost 5 with 1 member hospitalized. The entire Department mourns this loss and extends our deepest condolences to our French and Czech partners in the Sinai Peninsula who lost teammates
— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) November 12, 2020
U.S. officials said they’re not providing details about the U.S. troops until the next of kin notification process is completed.
Soldiers from 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry Regiment, of the Texas National Guard took over the Task Force Sinai mission in March, during a ceremony on South Camp, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, according to the Pentagon.
Those troops are responsible for manning a number of remote outposts along the Sinai Peninsula and Red Sea, according to the Pentagon. The primary task during their nine-month deployment will be to “use their skills honed as Cavalry Scouts to observe and report compliance of the Camp David Accords Peace Treaty.”
The helicopter belonged to the MFO, which monitors the 40-year-old peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. Thirteen countries contribute troops to the mission, with the United States making up the largest contingent.
The Egyptian official said the UH-60 Black Hawk was on a reconnaissance mission and crashed near the island of Tiran, apparently because of a technical failure. MFO officials said an investigation was underway but gave no further details.
Both the Israeli and the Egyptian official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media on the matter.
Islamic militant groups and a regional affiliate of the Islamic State group are known to be active in Sinai. But the MFO said there were no signs of an attack. “At this point, there is no information to indicate the crash was anything except an accident,” it said.
An Israeli official said the injured peacekeeper was airlifted by the peacekeeping force to the Israeli border city of Eilat. From there, he was flown to an Israeli hospital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.
The Czech Republic’s military confirmed one of the fatalities of the Black Hawk’s crash was a Czech. It said the cause of the crash was a technical malfunction and added that the survivor is in critical condition.The chief of Czech army’s general staff, Gen. Ales Opata, expressed his condolences and identified the victim in a Facebook post as Sgt. Maj. Michaela Ticha.
French military officials identified lieutenant-colonel Sébastien Botta as the French casualty.
[#CEMA] Toutes mes pensées accompagnent la famille, les proches et les frères d’armes du lieutenant-colonel Sébastien Botta mort en opération au service de la France ce jour, lors de l’accident d’un hélicoptère de la Force Multinationale d’Observateur au Sinaï. pic.twitter.com/V1TLEXGn5P
— État-Major Armées (@EtatMajorFR) November 12, 2020
The MFO monitors the four-decade-old peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. Thirteen countries contribute troops to the MFO, with the United States making up the largest contingent. Its responsibilities include monitoring troop levels along the border and ensuring the freedom of navigation through the Strait of Tiran.
Since 1981, MFO has safeguarded the peace between Egypt and Israel. The administration’s recent budget calls for $30 million in funding for MFO, but former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley have both informed lawmakers that the U.S. may soon prepare to withdraw its military forces from this mission.
Under the guidance of President Jimmy Carter in 1978, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords, which called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Sinai Peninsula and an international peacekeeping mission. After the United Nations Security Council failed to oversee the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the United States became instrumental in creating and maintaining the MFO.
The MFO draws most of its budget in relatively equal proportion from the United States, Israel, and Egypt. Last year, the U.S. provided $31 million to the MFO.
Associated Press writers Samy Magdy and Noha ElHennawy in Cairo, and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Stay with Military Times for updates.