Egyptian soldier
Egypt has been facing an increased Islamist insurgency since 2013 Reuters file photo

At least 50 police officers have been killed in a shootout with militants in Egypt when they launched a raid in the Western Desert. According to reports, the security personnel mounted the counter-terror operation against a suspected militant hideout on Friday, 20 October.

"A number of policemen" were killed in the operation, said the Egyptian interior ministry but did not reveal the exact casualty figures from the confrontation.

Earlier death toll said no less than 30 policemen had died but later media reports put the number to 52 on Saturday, 21 October.

The death toll is expected to increase.

The militants reportedly belong to the Hasm group, which has launched several attacks against police forces in the past. The government accuses Hasm of being the militant arm of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood but the organisation denied such accusations.

Though the militants attempted to flee after the first round of fire from security forces, they were stopped by reinforcements and retaliated. Local reports suggest explosives were also used by the militants.

Combing operations continue in the deserted region as the security forces are trying to flush out the remaining insurgents.

The hideout, about 135sq.kms, in Bahariya Oasis is located about 370kms from capital Cairo.

Centred on the Sinai peninsula, extremists, some of whom have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, have been engaged in an armed insurgency against the Egyptian state from 2013. Hundreds of Islamists and security personnel have been killed in all these years of the bloody campaign.