Ninety percent of foreign fighters who joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra used Turkey to cross into Syria, a US military intelligence document claimed.
According to a Foreign Terrorist Fighter bulletin dated April 2016, a copy of which was seen by Nordic Monitor, “An estimated 90% of all FTF [foreign terrorist fighters] entered the conflict zone through Turkey.” It stated that between 1,500 and 2,000 foreign fighters arrived in Iraq and Syria in 2015.
The number of FTF arrivals dropped to 200 in 2016 after European security services started to crack down on the network as well as increased focus on the part of Turkey to improve border security and screening procedures at airports.
The note also warned that Idlib province, which was under the control of Jabhat al-Nusra control at the time, would see increased efforts by ISIS to move fighters into Syria. “The loss of the vital Manbij corridor to Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) would sever ISIL’s only remaining cross border routes under ISIL control and result in degradation of facilitation into Syria. This likely would force fighters to enter Syria through higher risk southwestern TUR/SYR border into Idlib province, currently under ANF [Al Nusra Front] control,” it added.
The intelligence memo pointed out that more ISIS members would start to reside in Turkey since Western Europe and Turkey’s counter-ISIS efforts were stemming the flow of foreign terrorist fighters entering and exiting Syria.
“Future FTF flow into Europe through Turkey will likely be limited to ISIL members having high quality forged documents to circumvent airport and immigration screening procedures,” it concluded.
The US also warned that the backlog of ISIS members in Turkey affords an opportunity to maturate into decentralized terrorist cells that threaten internal stability and the international presence inside Turkey.
The bulletin was issued by Operation Gallant Phoenix, part of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) effort tasked with exposing FTF networks and facilitating information sharing with US interagency and partner nations in order to assist in their efforts to disrupt trans-regional terrorist networks and their ability to develop and field foreign fighters.