It is now more complicated for Daesh militants to cross the Turkish-Syrian border thanks to Ankara's efforts to provide more comprehensive security, Washington's deputy U.S. special envoy for the counter-Daesh coalition Brett McGurk said on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters in a Department of State daily briefing, McGurk expressed appreciation for Turkey tightening security measures on its Syrian border and said, "It's much harder to get from the Turkish side of the border into Syria from that strip than it was some months ago."
He said, "[I]t's not only what we're doing across the border in Syria, but most significantly and most significantly in this building, the diplomacy with Turkey and focused on the Turks and really closing up that 98-kilometer border."
Regarding Ankara's efforts in the fight against Daesh, he said he is "definitely seeing progress along that border on the Turkish side and definitely seeing a willingness and readiness for the Turks to engage with us in terms of advice on what needs to be done."
He emphasized Daesh's losing power in Syria and said things will dramatically change for the terrorist organization in the upcoming months. "Since we were at the G20 with President [Barack] Obama – had a very good meeting with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan about this very issue – we have seen the Turks take some significant steps in terms of setting up defensive perimeters, more patrols. Much harder for ISIL [Daesh] to get resources into this very critical area. We're continuing that engagement now," he said.
Indicating that cooperation with Turkey is moving in a more positive direction, McGurk said: "This month we're following up with them on a number of things – not only what's happening on their side of the border, but also what we want to do together on the Syrian side of the border. And that's why the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford] is there this week. That's why the Vice President [Joe Biden] will be in town. And that's why we have a number of – the vice president going to Turkey, and a number of our kind of border security experts at the working level going to Turkey."
General Dunford arrived on Tuesday and held a series of official meetings on Wednesday including Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar as well as several other top military officials at the General Staff in Ankara.
"We know that ISIL [Daesh] in its public statements has called on foreign fighters, 'maybe, hey, don't go into Syria; maybe go to Libya,' which is another indication that Syria is now not as hospitable an environment as they might have – as it might have been in the past," McGurk said.
Even though there is a conception in the international arena that Turkey has failed to do enough in the fight against Daesh and abstains from closely controlling or patrolling its borders, which allegedly has paved the way for the movement of foreign fighters from Turkey to Syria, statistics regarding Turkey's efforts show the contrary. Turkey was one of the first countries to put Daesh on its terrorist organizations list in 2013 and has also conducted airstrikes on the militant group as part of the U.S.-led coalition. Aware of the threat of foreign fighters traveling through Turkey to join Daesh, security forces have prevented around 27,000 people from 110 countries from entering Turkey. In addition, 2,300 suspected individuals were captured by security forces and deported. In 2015 up to Nov. 27, around 1,200 Daesh suspects were detained, and 350 of them were arrested for being part of a terrorist organization. Contrary to the harsh criticism of Turkey for alleged insufficient actions for the necessary measures, the government has spent TL 300 million ($102.77 million) to improve conditions on the Syrian border and provide precautions.