Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper and his NATO counterparts are at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, with discussions planned on the situation in Syria and efforts to ensure the coalition arrayed against international terrorism stays together and focused.
Esper spoke during a ''doorstep meeting'' with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the beginning of the meeting of alliance defense ministers.
The secretary had arrived in Belgium from travels to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. ''In Afghanistan, I had the great privilege of visiting with our troops and our partners to see how well they are going to enable the Afghan defense and security forces improve their own security,'' Esper said. The NATO training mission there is key to accomplishing this mission.
Esper also met with American troops in Saudi Arabia who have deployed there to help protect the kingdom from the threat from Iran. He said he will urge several NATO partners to help in that effort.
The secretary visited the NATO mission in Iraq and said it is doing a ''fantastic job'' helping Iraq improve the performance of its forces and modernize its defense institutions.
Esper said a lot has changed on the ground in northeastern Syria in the past week. ''I think we need to sit down and discuss how we recalibrate the defeat-ISIS mission so we assure the enduring defeat of ISIS,'' he said.
Stoltenberg said the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq are ''all about making sure we fight international terrorism, and [ISIS] is not able to come back.''
The ministers will discuss the increasing readiness of alliance forces and burden-sharing. Stoltenberg noted that the European allies and Canada are investing more in defense, saying the amount has increased by $100 billion since the alliance’s Wales Summit in 2014, when the allies agreed to dedicate 2 percent of gross domestic product to defense.
Earlier, Stoltenberg said he is encouraged by the significant reduction in violence in northeastern Syria. The face-off between Turkey and Kurdish groups inside Syria is a concern to the alliance, as Turkey is the second-largest NATO ally. ''We have to build on that to work for a political, lasting solution of the crisis in Syria,'' the secretary general said. ''The situation is still fragile, but at least we have seen some progress by the fact that we have seen reduction in violence over the last days.''
Stoltenberg said the defense ministers will also discuss Russia's hybrid threats, hybrid tactics and how NATO is responding to that. ''I expect that the ministers will, during the meeting, agree on new baseline requirements for telecommunication resilience, which also included requirements for 5G networks,'' he said.