Caria Babb, Voice of America
US Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says NATO members must acknowledge the alliance is facing “multiple complex” threats.
Members of NATO’s highest military authority are meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday to discuss security issues including the support mission in Afghanistan, the threat of Russian aggression on NATO’s eastern flank and the fight against the Islamic State militant group to the alliance’s south.
“I never try to convince them that one threat is more dire than another,” Gen. Dempsey told VOA. “What I want to make sure that they except and concede is that there are multiple threats.”
He says host nation Turkey is “critical” to NATO “understanding the issues” faced by the alliance.
Fight Against IS
The war against the Islamic State is at Turkey’s doorstep, with nearly 2 million Syrians flooding into Turkey to escape the violence.
Analysts say disagreements between the Turks and Americans have allowed the Islamic State group to expand its reach.
“I think a lot of the unwritten story or partially written story of why we’re struggling so much in Syria these last couple of years is because the U.S.-Turkish relationship has struggled so much,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense policy expert at the Brookings Institution and author of the new book The Future of Land Warfare.
O’Hanlon says Turkey has “tolerate(d) a lot of less-than-ideal things” including the movement of IS fighters and supplies across its border, because the leadership desperately wants to get rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While Turkey and the U.S. would both like to see Assad go, he says Turkey has disappointedly watched the Obama administration do “almost next to nothing to make that happen.”
Turkey Stepping Up
Turkey has made recent steps more in line with U.S. and coalition interests, first opening up its Incirlik airbase to U.S. warplanes in July and later joining in coalition airstrikes against the militants. The U.S. has tried to gradually arm moderate opposition fighters in Syria to fight the Islamic State group, but the pace of the Syrian train and equip operation has been so slow that fighters are getting killed off and captured before others can join them in the fight.
“We bomb a few targets and we hope for the best. That’s not really a serious strategy,” said O’Hanlon. “Turkey and the United States may be getting along better, but they’re getting along better in support of what’s arguably a losing strategy.”
The U.S. says a number of factors—from leadership issues in Iraq to a shortage of reliable partners in Syria—have kept the Islamic State in the fight. The battle is expected to take years, even as generals including Chairman Dempsey say the fight is “tactically stalemated.”