ISIL loses all territory along Syrian-Turkish border

The defeat deprives the extremist group of access to its main route for bringing in foreign fighters and arms.
A Turkish tank near the border with Syria, from which ISIL has been completely routed in Turkey-back operations that began last month. Ismail Coskun / IHA via AP / September 2, 2016
A Turkish tank near the border with Syria, from which ISIL has been completely routed in Turkey-back operations that began last month. Ismail Coskun / IHA via AP / September 2, 2016

GAZIANTEP, TURKEY // Turkish troops and rebel forces drove ISIL from its last stretch of territory along Syria’s border with Turkey on Sunday, cutting off the extremist group from the outside world.

The defeat deprived ISIL of access to the Turkish border for the first time since the early days of the groups rise in 2013.

Turkey intervened militarily in Syria’s war less than two weeks ago by launching Operation Euphrates Shield. Initially, Turkey facilitated a rebel attack on the ISIL-held town of Jarabulus on August 24, allowing them to cross the border from Turkish territory and backing them up with air and artillery strikes.

On Saturday, Turkey moved tanks and armoured personnel carriers into the village of Al Rai, just west of what was ISIL’s last stretch of territory along the frontier.

Relatively open access to Turkey’s border has been seen as key to ISIL’s success. From Turkey, foreign fighters and supporters flocked to the group, bringing arms, ammunition and other supplies.

While Turkey is a member of the US-led anti-ISIL coalition, the country has been accused of not taking the ISIL threat seriously and fighters crossed into ISIL territory with ease from Turkish border towns.

Extremists from overseas were able to reach ISIL-held territory simply by catching a flight to Istanbul, transferring by air or overland to border towns such as Kilis or Sanliurfa, and crossing the frontier with smugglers.

Now, with Syria’s 911-kilometre border with Turkey entirely under the control of rebels and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, ISIL is cut off from the world. The loss of the border should make it almost impossible for the group to receive foreign recruits.

“ISIL has lost its contact with the outside world after losing the remaining border villages,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria.

While Turkey and its rebel proxies have targeted ISIL in their campaign, they have also targeted the Kurdish YPG forces – US allies that have been the most effective fighting force on the ground against ISIL in Syria, but a group that Ankara considers to be terrorists.

The news of ISIL’s losses along the Turkish border came as pro-government Syrian forces again brought rebel-held eastern Aleppo under siege, retaking territory they lost four weeks ago in the south-west of the city.

Government forces first encircled eastern Aleppo on July 17, but rebel forces, led by the Islamist Jaish Al Fatah coalition, were able to break through government lines south-west of the city on August 6.

But they secured only a small strip of land leading into the city – a tenuous link to fighters, arms and supplies as the government brought in reinforcements.

The resumption of the siege heightens humanitarian concerns about the quarter of a million civilians who find themselves trapped in the city’s east.

The US president Barack Obama said on Sunday that Russia and the US were “working around the clock” on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China to hammer out a deal for a truce in Syria, but that no deal had been reached yet.

*With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse

Published: September 4, 2016 04:00 AM


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