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Dempsey: Refugee Crisis ‘Very Complex’

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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BERLIN, Sept. 10, 2015 — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his German counterpart met here today, with the refugee crisis in Europe a focus of the discussions.

After today's talks with Gen. Volker Wieker, the chief of staff of the German armed forces, U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey noted that the "very complex" issue also will be a subject of NATO meetings later this week in Istanbul.

The chairman said he and Wieker discussed whether NATO should have a role in addressing the cause of the crisis.

Dempsey, who spoke to reporters after his meeting today, said the refugee crisis stems from instability in the Middle East, Afghanistan and North Africa, and economic conditions in the Balkans.

A Deluge of Refugees

Earlier this week, Germany said it expects to take in 800,000 refugees this year from Africa, Afghanistan, Syria and the Balkans.

The trickle of refugees suddenly became a deluge, Dempsey said, noting that many of the refugees were young men. The sudden flow, he added, possibly indicates a network of criminal activity is behind the influx.

"Somebody, somewhere in a very deliberate fashion has established a network for profit to enable these young men to escape their current conditions and into Europe," the chairman said.

The young men looking for a better life and economic opportunities could be vulnerable to "those who would potentially seek to radicalize them," he said. "We all have to be alert to that possibility," Dempsey added.

NATO Meetings in Turkey

There are multiple, complex threats facing the alliance, he said. One goal of the day of NATO talks Saturday is to have a conversation about what each nation will do both unilaterally and as a member of the alliance in response to issues such as Russia, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and the refugee crisis, the chairman said.

While Turkey might not feel threatened by Russia, it is important that each member of the alliance accept and concede there are multiple threats facing NATO, Dempsey said.

"We've had many conversations with them about the threat from violent extremist organizations and radical ideologies and their vulnerability on their southern flank, which happens to be NATO's southeastern flank," he noted.

Turkey, as the only Muslim country in NATO, can provide valuable input to the alliance on issues evolving in the Middle East and North Africa, Dempsey said.

Chairman Honored

During his visit to the German Ministry of Defense, Dempsey laid a wreath in honor of fallen German soldiers and received the Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

In presenting the decoration, Wieker hailed Dempsey as a close ally and friend who "enjoys the highest recognition around the world" as the top U.S. military officer.

"The Federal Republic of Germany is grateful for your outstanding contribution to the American-German friendship and your dedication to all bilateral and transatlantic partnership," he told Dempsey.

The chairman said it was "quite a remarkable honor and privilege" to receive the decoration.

"I accept it on behalf of the many, many, many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have served here in your wonderful country," he said, noting he began his career as a young Army officer stationed in Germany.

"I found it fitting and appropriate that I would end my career where I began it," Dempsey said, who retires at the end of this month after more than four decades of service.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)