NATO is sending warships to the Aegean Sea at the request of countries struggling to monitor the flood of migrants pouring into Europe, but the general in charge of the operation said Thursday he doesn’t know what the ships are actually supposed to do when they get there.
“This mission has literally come together in the last 20 hours, and I have been tasked now to go back and define the mission,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, told reporters Thursday. “We had some very rapid decision making and now we have to go out to do some military work.”
Breedlove has ordered the warships from Canada, Germany, Greece and Turkey to the Aegean, without clear objectives or rules of engagement, apparently because NATO members asked for help patrolling the sea. Smugglers are using the sea to transport hundreds of thousands of North African and Middle Eastern migrants from Turkey into Greece.
NATO must “respond swiftly, because this crisis affects us all,” secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Thursday. “And all of us have to contribute in finding solutions,” he added.
The move is apparently a show of strength and control over the ongoing migrant crisis, intended to demonstrate concern but unlikely to amount to anything more than a symbolic gesture. The warships are supposed to “monitor” the migrant boats and gather intelligence for the European Union, but further details of the mission, such as how to engage intercepted migrant boats, are undefined.
“This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats,” Stoltenberg said Thursday, making it unclear how exactly NATO’s response will work either to enforce the law or deter migrant smugglers.
More than a million migrants left the Middle East and North Africa last year and made for Europe, primarily by way of Greece. European ministers worried about the ongoing migrant crisis have threatened to close Greece’s access to Europe’s passport-free zone if the flood of migrants pouring across its borders continues uncontrolled.
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