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Dempsey: NATO Can Focus on Both ISIL and Russia

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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ISTANBUL, Sept. 11, 2015 — NATO has the capacity to focus on two simultaneous problems facing the alliance -- Russia and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

"Russia has fielded military capabilities that -- were they to have an intent to do harm to the alliance -- they would have the capability to do so," Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said.

"NATO is big enough and powerful enough and stable enough to be able to deal with both threats at the same time," the chairman said.

"But what we're seeing is a period of time where we can have the tendency to look at one threat for a while and then we look at the other threat for a while," he said. "Frankly we got to keep our eye on both threats over time."

Dempsey is in the middle of a weeklong trip that began with a stop in Germany to meet with his German counterpart. He then traveled on to Turkey for a NATO Military Committee conference being held Saturday.

The Roots of ISIL

ISIL, he said, is a manifestation of deeper, broader and longer-term issues, including pervasive instability, disenfranchised groups and ethnic and religious conflict in the Middle East and North Africa.

"The underlying issues that allowed ISIL to be created or to create itself are not going to be resolved in the near term," he said.

"NATO has on its southern flank that non-state threat and what that particular threat requires is us to look transregionally," Dempsey said.

NATO will also benefit from hearing the perspective of the conference's host nation, Dempsey said, adding that he hopes to have one-on-one discussions Saturday with Gen. Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s chief of General Staff.

"I do look for the opportunity on the sidelines of conference to get his perspective, find out how he views the issues that are confronting not only his country but NATO, because they are of course the eastern flank of NATO," Dempsey said.

The chairman said he sees Turkey as critical to NATO’s understanding of the issues it faces.

As the only Muslim country in NATO, Turkey is "very important in helping us try to figure out how to resolve the issues that are evolving in the Middle East and North Africa," he said.

Dempsey said he looks forward to discussions on the response of each nation to the multiple, complex issues facing the alliance -- both unilaterally and as a part of NATO.

The day-long NATO session kicks off Saturday morning with opening remarks by Akar, and Czech Gen. Petr Pavel, the chairman of the NATO Military Committee. Sessions are to address topics including the European migrant crisis and NATO's mission in Afghanistan.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)