A quick look at Iraq’s long border with Syria and Jordan
Securing Iraq’s western borders has been a major focus of the Iraqi government and Coalition forces. An influx of foreign fighters (al Qaeda), mainly from Syria, necessitates close attention to the western borders. The plan to seal the borders is multifaceted: secure the major border crossing points and towns, establish forts along the border, and train and deploy the Iraqi Army, border patrol and police forces.
Last November, the Iraqi government assumed command of the borders during a ceremony in Husaybah. General George Casey, the Coalition forces commander, laid out the force structure for the border security; “here are two brigades of Iraqi border guards backed by seven Iraqi Army brigades, which are backed by Coalition forces.” The Desert Wolves, border police which are locally recruited for their knowledge of the region, play a vital role in border security, and often act as scouts for U.S. and Iraqi forces operating in their respective areas.
Security Watchtower provides an excellent graphic of locations of the forts and checkpoints along the border, which total to thirty two in number. The forts are coming online, and are manned by Iraqi border police.
Iraqi and Coalition forces conducted operations over the summer of 2005 at the major border crossing points of Rabiah in the north, Husaybah along the Euphrates and Rutbah. An al Qaeda training manual identified these three areas as the major points of entry, with the entry at Husaybah being identified as the main point of crossing, the crossings at Rabiah and Sinjar west of Mosul as the secondary point of entry, and Rutbah at the Jordanian & Syrian border as the third option.
With the Rabiah & Sinjar crossings essentially sealed during Operation Restoring Rights, and Husaybah during Operation Steel Curtain, the focal point has shifted to Rutbah in the south. The Rutbah crossing was closed during Operation Cyclone while Steel Curtain was being carried out, but insurgents and al Qaeda have been making a push to reopen their lines of communication in the region.
Marines from the 1st Light Armored Reconnasennce Battalion and Iraqi Army troops are currently in the city of Rutbah, stationed in Battle Position Korean Villiage. Colonel Stephen Davis, commander of Regimental Combat Team-2, announced Operation Western Shield last Friday. The city has been surrounded with a berm (as has been done in Tal Afar, Samarra and Siniyah) in order to maintain control of the entry points:
We’ve just concluded a couple of days ago an Operation Western Shield down in the city of Rutbah, along our main supply routes, Michigan and Mobile, in which we bermed up the city, and we have now an exclusive walled compound down there, with three entry control checkpoints, that’s been getting rave reviews from the population down there because, for the first time in years now, the insurgents can’t freely travel in and out of that city — one more step in making western Al Anbar a prohibitive environment for the insurgents and terrorists to operate in.
Lt. Col. Greg Reilly, the commander of the 3rd Squadron of the 3rd from 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, recently has been quoted as saying that over the past nine months, no foreign fighters have been detained crossing the borders, and Syrian support is limited at best. While may be representative of the situation on the northern border crossings, numerous officers stated to me while I was in Iraq the support for fighters in the Qaim and Rutbah regions derived from Syria. Large sums of cash (in American dollars, no less) as well as equipment has been traced back to Syrian origin.
Lt. Col. Reilly also reveals an interesting piece of intelligence which should raise questions in the media but which was essentially ignored; “many of the incoming fighters can simply fly into Baghdad, using valid Iraqi passports made from “boxes and boxes” of blank passports shipped out of Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule.” The obvious unasked question is how are Iraqi passports smuggled out of Iraq falling into the hands of the jihadis?
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