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Around 2,000 Daesh agents estimated to have mingled with refugees — army

By Raed Omari - May 05,2016 - Last updated at May 05,2016

A soldier stands guard on the border with Syria as a crowd of refugees wait to be allowed to cross the border into safety on Wednesday (Photo by Hassan Tamimi)

NORTHERN BORDER — The ultra-radical group Daesh is 120 and 80 kilometres away from Jordan's eastern and northern borders with war-torn Syria and crisis-hit Iraq, but authorities are aware that they are much closer than that, with an estimated 2,000 “agents” within around 59,000 refugees just across the border.

Border Guards Commander Brig. Gen. Saber Mahayrah told reporters during a tour for a close look at the situation on the border that in the vetting and inspection process, troops have found explosive belts, messages wrapped around pigeon legs and other dangerous materials. 

That explains the slow screening process; however, the army facilitates the entry of hundreds of refugees seeking a safe haven in Jordan every couple of days, as announced in regular statements.

The Border Guard units have also dealt with hundreds of infiltrations into and from Syria, either by suspected terrorists or drug smugglers.  Mahayrah said the response time to such attempts is less than one minute.

“Last year, 26 sleeper cells from the Zaatari Camp were referred to the judiciary. Weapons, drones and explosive belts were caught with refugees,” the commander said.

The armed forces also apply a strict policy regarding military activities across the border. Neither the rebels, nor the Syrian regime’s forces, are allowed to be engaged in combat within 7km from Jordan’s border. The message has been made clear to all, according to the general, and they are aware of the consequences. 

Mahayrah explained that Daesh, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Ahrar Al Sham, Liwa Shuhada Al Yarmouk (the Yarmouk martyrs brigade) and the Syrian regime’s forces manoeuvre at a minimum distance of 257km, 33km, 28km, 14km and 46km respectively inside Syria. 

“All have been warned to keep a distance of no less than 7 kilometres from the border line with Jordan,” Mahayrah told reporters. 

Reiterating that Jordan’s borders with Syria are “tightly sealed and well-protected”, Mahayrah added: “Southern Syria is the most worrying region for us.”

“Liwa Shuhada Al Yarmouk is stationed on a corner bordering Jordan, Syria and the West Bank. The brigade pledged allegiance to Daesh,” he noted.

“The Syrian warring map is highly complicated. More than 80 brigades fight under the umbrella of the FSA. We do not interfere and our job is to prevent infiltration into Jordan by any faction.”

He also explained that Jordan’s borders with Syria and Iraq are under 24/7 surveillance, using drones, helicopters and “highly advanced border surveillance systems”. 

“Even birds on the border are detected,” he stressed.

The officer explained that threats from the western part of the border with Syria have materialise in various forms, from infiltration to smuggling attempts, using vehicles, persons, tunnels and animals.”Such things happen on almost daily basis and are always foiled.”

However, Mahayrah added that the border guards are trained and ready to deal with other forms of threats, which he termed as “hypothetical” threats.

“Such threats could take the form of rockets fired at watchtowers, explosive belts, smuggled biological or chemical agents or explosives through refugees and long-range missiles fired at dams, gas stations and border crossings”.

“There are plans already in place to deal with all such virtual threats,” he said. 

The border watchmen are also aware of the existence of “ancient” tunnels on the northeastern border that smugglers use.”Earlier this year, border guards killed 12 persons who tried to smuggle narcotics into Jordan using such tunnels. All these Roman and Ottoman tunnels have been shut down from the Jordanian side.”

Jordan has reinforced the border operation with enough human elements and advanced weapons and equipment to ensure the response would neutralise or eliminate any threat to national security.   

“A total of 9,749 troops are stationed on the borders with Syria and Iraq, armed with 9,521 weapons of various types and ranges, in addition to 639 vehicles, 425 artillery pieces, 820 mortars and 66 air defence systems,” he said.

However, the most delicate job for soldiers on the border is to ensure the sensitive balance between their humanitarian mission and security requirements. 

The humanitarian duty, Mahayrah said, was the army’s first and foremost concern at the beginning of the Syrian crisis. “But with the emergence of Daesh, Jabhat Al Nusra and other terror groups, we started to balance the security with the humanitarian factors.”

“Achieving such balance is a big challenge. But nowadays, security is our target,” said the general. 

“But the doors remained open to the brothers and sisters in distress. Since the beginning of 2016, border guards have received 16,173 Syrian refugees raising the number of refugees coming to Jordan through more than 45 unofficial crossings to 543,502.”

Fact Box: Figures on the border security operation

The following are facts and figures related to the Syria and Iraq border security challenge

• The borders with Syria and Iraq extend along 573km.

• In addition to the regime forces, Jordan is keeping an eye on the activities of Daesh, the Free Syrian Army, Ahrar Al Sham and Liwa Shuhada Al Yarmouk.

• A total of 9,749 troops are stationed on the borders with Syria and Iraq, armed with 9,521 weapons of various types and ranges, in addition to 639 vehicles, 425 artillery pieces, 820 mortars and 66 air defence systems.

• Since the beginning of 2016, Border Guards have received 16,173 Syrian refugees, raising the total number of refugees coming to Jordan through more than 45 unofficial routes to 543,502.

• 40 per cent, 51 per cent and 9 per cent of the received refugees were children, women and men, respectively. 

• Army medics had treated 3,491 injured refugees by the end of 2015.

• The Jordan Armed Forces –Arab Army has spent more than JD1 billion as refugee-related expenditures since the crisis started more than five years ago.

• 300 military vehicles have been put out of service due to excessive use– some of them cost JD100, 000.





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