WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2016 —
This week, NATO defense ministers addressed how the alliance will handle what many call the greatest refugee crisis in the region since the end of World War II, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels today.
In a news conference following the meetings, Stoltenberg said Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 will deploy to the Aegean Sea to conduct reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of the illegal crossings in the area.
Thousands of Syrian refugees are risking their lives to escape the civil war in their country. Many fall into the hands of human traffickers, he said.
NATO Partners With European Union Agency
The NATO force will work with the European Union’s border management agency, Frontex, the secretary general said.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who wears two hats as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, is directing the effort for the alliance, Stoltenberg said.
“Our top military commander, [Supreme Allied Commander Europe], is now directing the Standing NATO Maritime Group to move into the Aegean without delay,” Stoltenberg said. “The goal is to participate in the international efforts to stem illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean.”
The force, which is under German command, has three ships, he said, and that will be augmented.
“This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats,” the secretary general said. “NATO will contribute critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks.”
The alliance ministers, he said, also agreed to step up support for the international coalition that’s countering the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“We agreed in principle to use NATO [Airborne Warning and Control System] surveillance planes to backfill national AWACS capabilities,” Stoltenberg said. “This is in response to the U.S. request.”
AWACS aircraft help direct intelligence and surveillance efforts and this, he said, is a “key part of NATO’s response to hybrid threats, from the south and from the east.”
Russia’s use of hybrid warfare was also on the agenda, the secretary general said, noting NATO ministers discussed how the alliance is improving its ability to identify, recognize and attribute hybrid actions and to respond quickly.
“To be more effective in countering hybrid threats, we are committed to working even more closely with the European Union,” Stoltenberg said.
Finally, the ministers discussed the situation in Afghanistan, and assessed the work of the Resolute Support mission, he said.
“They agreed that our training, advice and assistance for the Afghan forces remain essential for stability in Afghanistan,” the secretary general said. “And they confirmed that the mission should continue to be kept under review, to ensure its effectiveness.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)