Efforts to secure the Syrian frontier from infiltration is a key element to defeating the insurgency, as Syria has acted as a safe haven for foreign jihais, al Qaeda and the remnants of Saddam’s Baathists. While some estimates place the foreign jihadis as low as 5% of the insurgency, they make up the most dangerous and violent elements of the insurgency, and are responsible for the mass attacks on civilians that threaten to plunge the country into sectarian conflict.
Last August, Security Watchtower provided a graphic on the establishment of the forts and checkpoints along the Syrian border. Strategy Page reports on an interesting proposal to establish a border patrol, which has yet to be confirmed:
In Anbar Province, the large desert region in the western part of the country that borders Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, the government has apparently reached an agreement with several of the Sunni tribes to form a “Desert Protection Force.” The DPF will be recruited from tribal militias, who have an intimate knowledge of the desert, and the traditional – as in thousands of years – smuggling routes into the adjacent regions. Although it can be viewed as a bribe to the tribal leaders to keep their people in line, the initiative may yield important benefits in the future, since it links local tribal fortunes to the success of the new government.
Co-opting local tribes to provide for border security is a reasonable solution if the proper checks can be put into place to ensure there are performing their duties as advertised. First and foremost, the Coalition should embed personnel into the proposed Desert Protection Force, and U.S. Special Operations operators are ideal for this mission. Air, artillery and quick reaction forces should be placed nearby to provide superior firepower when needed. Financial incentives should be established, and reward offered for foreigners and Baathists caught moving across the border. Payment should be withheld from units that fail in the mission, and severe punishments for those who double cross the Iraqi government and aide the insurgents.
Without the proper checks and balances, the proposed Desert Protection Force risks devolving into the Fallujah Brigade of 2004, which was intimidated by al Qaeda and the insurgency, and several of whose members assisted or even defected to the insurgency during the assault on the city in the spring of 2004. A Desert Protection Force is a high risk, high rewards proposal that can be made to work with the right planning and execution.