TANAF, Syria – Syria's security at its border with Iraq remains basic, relying on guards who lack night-vision equipment needed to stop militants crossing to fight U.S. forces in Iraq, a British defense official said Monday at this desert frontier post.
Syrian authorities gave journalists a rare tour of border areas Monday to tout improvements in security measures as U.S. forces on the other side waged the latest offensives against insurgents believed to have entered from Syria. Damascus is under intense pressure from Washington and Baghdad to tighten control of its porous border.
A giant picture of President Bashar Assad (search) looked over a bleak desert landscape and several hundred trucks waited to cross at Tanaf (search), one of the main posts along the 360- mile frontier with Iraq.
Journalists were driven for 120 miles along the tall sand berm that the authorities have put down along the border to impede crossing.
Col. Julian Lyne-Pirkis, a defense attache from the British Embassy in Damascus who has surveyed the entire length of the border, said the Syrians have been increasing their work along the border starting nine months ago. The berm has been heightened, for example, he said, but the border is "very difficult" to control.
"They are making progress, but they can still do more on the border to improve it," he said.
He said security measures remained "fairly basic," relying on Syrian troops who have "mostly just their eyes to survey the border, and that is not enough."
They have asked the British for night-vision equipment, but the details have not been worked out, Lyne-Perkis said. They also need to improve patrols and get better intelligence to understand how the insurgency works, he said.
A Syrian border official said Britain had promised to deliver night-vision equipment but had not followed through yet. The official said insurgents could not cross during the day, but it was more difficult to stop them at night.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the border issue, said several border guards had been killed by fire from U.S. troops who apparently mistook the Syrians for infiltrators. He did not provide more details.
On the Iraqi side, some 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops are carrying out two military campaigns, code-named Spear and Dagger, aimed at destroying militant networks near the Syrian border and north of Baghdad. About 60 insurgents have been killed and 100 captured since the campaigns began at the end of last week.
Troops said they found numerous foreign passports and one roundtrip air ticket from Tripoli, Libya, to Damascus, Syria.
Intelligence officials believe Anbar province, which borders Syria, is a portal for extremist groups, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's (search) Al Qaeda in Iraq, to smuggle in foreign fighters.