Iraq works to block infiltration at Syria border
By Khalid al-Taie
Iraqi border forces have been succeeding in their efforts to block "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) elements attempting to infiltrate from Syria, where the group remains active in some areas, a top Iraqi military commander said.
The security situation on the Syrian side of the border remains unstable, Border Guards Commander Maj. Gen. Hamid Abdullah Ibrahim told Diyaruna.
Pockets of ISIS fighters are present in the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal, and have been seeking to re-establish operations in the border region, which is under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), he said.
"From our side, we continue to secure the borders and mount security operations on a daily basis to plug any breaches by the terrorists," he said.
The Iraqi army's 8th Division is participating in the operations, he said, adding that air cover is provided by Iraqi and coalition air forces.
Joint forces have managed to "thwart several terrorist attempts to infiltrate the borders", he said, and have been exchanging intelligence with the SDF.
They have inflicted heavy losses on ISIS, whose elements now find it "difficult to penetrate the border, which is completely sealed off", he added.
On February 21st, joint Iraqi forces blocked 10 ISIS elements from infiltrating into Iraq from Syria.
They had been trying to enter Iraq through al-Qaim in western Anbar, taking advantage of inclement weather and darkness, Anbar Operations Command spokesman Col. Mohammed al-Dulaimi told Diyaruna.
"Six terrorists were killed after they were engaged, and the others withdrew, back into Syria," he said.
Reinforcing border forces
There are plans to reinforce Iraq's border forces and build their capacity to execute search and surveillance operations, Ibrahim said, noting that so far 27 commando regiments have been deployed along the border.
"We also seek to bolster our border defence system with the latest surveillance and reconnaissance technology," he said.
Mobile border posts provided by the international coalition have boosted the capabilities of the Iraqi border guard, he said, adding that in January, the border guard received "nine state-of-the-art posts" out of 100.
The remaining posts are expected to arrive in batches, Ibrahim said.
"These border posts have significantly improved our preparedness, as they are equipped with cameras, communication and surveillance devices, night vision devices and military vehicles," he said.
Each post can accommodate up to 30 fighters, he added.
Iraqi forces continue to achieve "significant victories" in their efforts to protect the border with Syria, said Anbar provincial council member Athal al-Fahdawi.
"Our forces are making exceptional efforts, and today the border strip with Syria is secured and under control," he told Diyaruna, adding that ISIS elements are several kilometres away from the border and cannot penetrate it.
Construction of a trench and earth berm along the Iraq-Syria border has been completed, he said, but called for more support for security forces in the form of surveillance towers and reconnaissance aircraft.
Iraqi tribes protect border
Western Anbar tribes continue to be actively involved in protecting the border, said Sheikh Abdullah al-Jughaifi, a tribal leader in Haditha who heads Ahrar al-Furat.
Tribesmen support the Iraqi forces in their efforts to hunt down terror elements and fend off their attacks, he told Diyaruna.
Protecting the border is not an easy undertaking, he said, as it requires military co-operation and a high level of collaboration with local residents.
The government has been working "to secure the western part of the country and make it off bounds for terrorists and prevent security breaches", he said.
This effort is "very important since, over the past three years, the border area has been a launchpad for ISIS elements", al-Jughaifi said. "Today, no effort should be spared to secure it."