Turkey has made strides in securing its border with Syria, United States President Barack Obama’s envoy to the anti-DAESH coalition said on Wednesday.
He said Turkish officials “are doing quite a lot” including building berms, increasing border patrols, improving intelligence sharing and carrying out cross-border artillery strikes to ensure that DAESH fighters cannot exploit the border.
“This is having an impact. It is much harder for ISIL [DAESH] fighters to get into Syria now than it was even six months ago and once they’re in it is much harder for them to get out,” he said in a testimony before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We know from their [DAESH] own publications that they’re telling their fighters don’t come to Syria – go elsewhere, go into Libya,” Ambassador Brett McGurk told lawmakers.
“That’s our objective; they can’t get in, and when get in they’ll never get out because they will die in Iraq and Syria," he said.
Due to successive battlefield defeats, notably in the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane, DAESH is left with only a 98-kilometre (61-mile) stretch of border in northern Syria, which McGurk termed “its remaining sole outlet to the world”.
But even as DAESH’s supply routes dry up, the Syrian conflict continues to amass casualties on multiple fronts.
The Syrian regime forces has made widespread gains in the country’s northwest, recently seizing opposition-held towns around Aleppo, severing supply lines with the assistance of allied militias and Russian air power.
Thousands have fled Syria’s second city, and those who remain have reportedly begun hoarding supplies in case Syrian forces besiege the former metropolis. Defence Intelligence Agency Director Vincent Stewart has said the gains have strengthened Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad’s hand in any potential negotiations with the opposition.
US officials are eyeing a key three-day international gathering in Munich that begins later this week as a watershed opportunity to broker a ceasefire in Syria’s five-year conflict.
At the top of the agenda in the German city will be the development of a humanitarian corridor inside Syria, McGurk said.
“The Russians claim that they’re cutting off weapons supply corridors, but they’re actually cutting off humanitarian corridors so at the very least they need to put their money where their mouth is and open up the humanitarian corridors immediately to all of these besieged areas,” he said.
“This will be a very difficult three days coming up, but we’re going to be very firm – the situation is totally unacceptable,” McGurk said.
“All of us have to come together as great powers – Turkey, the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia – and figure out a way to settle this conflict down, otherwise it’s going to come to haunt all of us,” he cautioned.
Noting Turkish concerns about PYD, McGurk stressed Washington’s commitment to Ankara’s security as Turkey faces attacks from PKK terrorists in the country’s southeast, saying “Turkey faces a real threat from the PKK.”
“Turkey has a right to respond in its own self-defence,” he said. “We want to protect Turkey against the PKK, and that’s something we’re going to help them do, we’re going to continue to help them do, but we also want to strengthen the Kurds in northern Syria.”
McGurk had visited PYD controlled areas in northern Syria last week and met with the groups leaders.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan harshly criticised US support to PYD, which Turkey considers as Syrian extension of PKK.
PKK is listed as a terorist orgaanisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.
“Is there a difference between PKK and PYD, or YPG? With all records on them in our hands, we tell US that they are terrorists organisations but US officials say they don’t recognise them as terrorist organisations?” Erdogan said during a meeting with village headmen in the capital city of Ankara.