The United States is accelerating efforts to help Turkey clamp down on its border with Syria, senior U.S. officials said, and for the first time will offer technologies to Ankara to help it secure the frontier.
Washington and Ankara have been discussing for months how to seal the last section of unsecured border, a 98-kilometer-long (60-mile-long) stretch which has served as a route for DAESH fighters, black-market goods and war materiel to be smuggled into or out of Syria.
DAESH controls the Syrian side of the border, and the effort to secure it assumed new urgency after November's deadly Paris attacks. Some of the Paris attackers used or attempted to use the Syria-Turkey border to travel between DAESH-held territory and Europe, officials said.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Turkey on Thursday and is scheduled to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to discuss the fight against DAESH.
Biden's visit to Istanbul is the latest in a string of high-level visits to the NATO ally. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in February will lead an inter-agency delegation and offer the Turkish government a menu of specific border-control technologies, the U.S. officials told Reuters.
Aerostat surveillance balloons and anti-tunneling technology are on the menu of American equipment likely on offer, and the U.S. is prepared to share methods for detecting the materials used in improvised explosive devices, the officials said.
"We like what we're seeing in terms of their actions and we want to work with them to tighten the screws a little bit further," a unnamed senior administration official said regarding Turkey. He and others requested anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations.
There is a perception in the international media that Turkey has failed to do enough in the fight against DAESH, and allegations continue that Turkey supposedly paves the way for the recruitment of foreign fighters by abstaining from closely controlling or patrolling its borders, yet statistics regarding Turkey's efforts reflect a different truth.
As one of the first countries to put DAESH on its terrorist organizations list in 2013, Turkey has conducted airstrikes against the militant group as part of the U.S.-led coalition. Aware of the threat of foreign fighters traveling through Turkey to join DAESH, the Turkish state has prevented around 27,000 people from 110 countries from entering Turkey. In addition, 2,300 suspected individuals were captured by security forces and deported.
Until Nov. 27, 2015, around 1,200 DAESH suspects had been detained, and 350 were arrested, charged with participation in a terrorist organization. Contrary to the harsh criticism of Turkey for allegedly insufficient efforts in taking necessary measures, the Turkish state has spent TL 300 million ($102.77 million) to improve conditions on the Syrian border and provide precautions.
In an effort to prevent people from illegally entering Turkey, 383 kilometers of ditches were dug, 73.6 kilometers of embankment were constructed, and 17.5 kilometers of concrete wall was erected as part of improved physical security measures. In addition, 107.8 kilometers of wire was erected along the border. Apart from building walls and fences, security forces provide electricity along a 423-kilometer-long border.
Against accusations that there is a lack of security forces along the border, data provided by the Prime Ministry say that half of the soldiers on watch to protect Turkish borders are stationed along the Syrian border. Aside from soldiers, 90 percent of Turkey's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and manned reconnaissance aircraft (MRA) are at the disposal of the border security forces.
Further measures taken along the border appear to be proving effective. Security forces have captured 207,437 people on the border while attempting to cross into Turkey illegally.
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