It’s Only $25 To Ride Turkey’s ‘Highway To Jihad’

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Erica Wenig Contributor
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The porous, 500-mile long border between Syria and Turkey is allowing foreign fighters to enter Islamic State territory. In comparison, the U.S.-Mexico border is nearly 2,000 miles.

Recently dubbed the “Highway to Jihad” in a report by NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, it’s been underwriting the power of IS in northern Syria and Iraq for several months. Now, after an agreement with the U.S., Turkey is trying to stem that flow of fighters into Syria.

“It’s an issue that Turkey and the U.S. are trying to collaborate more on,” said Bulent Aliriza, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This porous border poses a danger to Turkey and its allies, especially if fighters return home undetected.

Turkey has a 10,000-name blacklist, compiled with the help of foreign intelligence services, in order to stop would-be jihadis. But foreign fighters use fake Syrian passports to elude authorities. As reported by Sky News, “fake documents can be easily purchased from smugglers within hours.”

Before Turkey started ramping up security, smugglers charged $10 per person for transport to Syria. Now the price has jumped to $25.

“ISIS now obviously fears that Turkey is going to be taking a  tougher stance,” said Aliriza.

Even in light of Turkey’s efforts to increase security along its border with Syria, most of the 500-mile stretch of land is open land, so it would be very difficult to seal.

Turkish officials, “could tighten control of official border crossings, said Kemal Kirisci, an expert at the Brookings Institute. “But you could never seal it.”

Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, Turkey’s main objective has been the toppling of the Bashar Al-Assad regime. However, with the emergence of the Islamic State, U.S. objectives have zeroed in on defeating this group. Conflicting geopolitical goals have kept the two countries from full, strategic cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State.

Yet public opinion could shift the equation.

From Kirisci:

Public opinion in Turkey is deeply disturbed by ISIL’s actions as well as the growing number of Turkish youth joining its ranks. After considerable nudging by the United States and European Union (EU), the Turkish government has begun to take action against preventing foreign fighters and arms from transiting through Turkey into Syria.

The U.S. should temper its expectations of Turkey’s ability secure the border, writes Kirisci:

Even deploying a mere 10 soldiers to guard every mile of the border would require 30,000 soldiers, assuming four hourly guard shifts in a day is logistically and humanly possible.

The widow of the terrorist who attacked a kosher supermarket in France allegedly escaped into Syria across the Turkish border. Recently, three British teenage girls are believed to have crossed into Syria to join the Islamic State.

On the latter incident, Kirisci commented, “I think it’s very embarrassing for the Turkish government.”

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