NATO defence ministers Thursday (Oct 24) slammed Turkey for its military operation in Syria conducted with Russia’s help, but recognised there was little they could do to sanction their strategically important ally.
At the first day of the two-day ministerial meeting, the Syrian military offensive dominated the discussions, with Turkey isolated among the 29 member states because of its incursion against Kurdish fighters it considers “terrorists” but who are key in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, reported CNA.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described discussions as “frank and open” – euphemisms for sharp discord – and noted “we have seen disagreements before” but the transatlantic alliance has endured, the report said.
Stoltenberg stressed that the ministers have agreed on the need to “maintain our unity in the fight against ISIS,” referring to the IS group being fought in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere by a broad international coalition including many NATO members.
At the meeting, Germany presented the idea of deploying international troops to create a security zone in northeast Syria – a notion that has been met tepidly by allies because of the situation on the ground and the need for a UN mandate. Stoltenberg said they instead stressed their “broad support … for ways to engage the international community to find a political situation” in northern Syria.
Mazloum Abdi, top commander of Syria’s Kurdish force told journalists in northern Syria he welcomes the proposal saying, “we demand and agree to this”.
Belgium’s defence minister, Didier Reynders, said of Germany’s troops idea: “In principle we are in favour of such an agreement to work together – but then again, the situation is totally different now” following the Turkey-Russia agreement.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, speaking at a think tank conference in Brussels before the NATO meeting, was blunt about Turkey, saying it was “heading in the wrong direction”.
“Turkey put us all in a very terrible situation and I think the incursion’s unwarranted,” Esper said.
He defended the withdrawal of “less than 50” US troops from northern Syria that cleared a path for the Turkish operation, arguing it was the only way to preserve the soldiers’ lives, and that in any case he was not “about to start a fight with a NATO ally”. (Source: CNA)