The United States gas stepped up its efforts to help Turkey secure its border with Syria, senior US officials said on Thursday, adding that the US would offer technologies for the first time to Ankara to help block the DAESH terrorist group at the frontier.
The two countries have been discussing for months how to close the last piece of unsecured border, a 98-kilometer-long (60 mile-long) stretch which has been a crossing point for DAESH terrorists, black-market goods and war materiel.
After November’s deadly Paris attacks, the effort to secure the Syrian side of the border that DAESH controls assumed new urgency. Some of the Paris attackers used or tried to use the Syria-Turkey border to travel between DAESH-held territory and Europe, the officials said.
US Vice President Joe Biden is set to visit Turkey on Thursday and will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu 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.
US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will lead an inter-agency delegation and offer the Turkish government a menu of specific border-control technologies in February, the US officials said.
Johnson’s visit comes on the back of lower-level talks that have been going on since August. Those talks "gained new urgency" after DAESH-directed shootings and bombings killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13, the officials said.
"The fact that they came up through Syria, through the remaining border gap is something that has gained everyone’s attention," another senior administration official said.
The officials added that the US menu of equipment included aerostat surveillance balloons and anti-tunneling technology. The US is also prepared to share methods for detecting the material used in improvised explosive devices.
"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 senior Turkish official said. He and others requested anonymity when discussing diplomatic negotiations.
Turkish efforts to secure the border include the deployment of 25,000 more regular army troops and the installation of concrete barriers and fences.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last month that "Turkey must do more to control its often porous border" with Syria.
Turkey offered to help the US train a group of Sunni Arabs to help secure the area on the Syrian side of the border two weeks ago, the officials said, adding that the US wants to learn more about proposed fighters before agreeing to support them.
The US said its aim was to destroy the DAESH terrorists who control areas of Syria and Iraq.
"We can try to move ISIL [DAESH] up in sort of the priority ranking but when somebody perceives something as a true existential threat, it’s difficult to argue with that," a senior US defence official said.