NATO ships have begun their operation to combat human traffickers in the Aegean Sea after a NATO announcement on Thursday said the alliance will send military vessels to the Aegean to assist on cracking down on criminal networks of smuggling refugees.
The ships arrived on Friday night, General Philip Breedlove said.
“In a matter of less than two days a political decision was made, a military response was put together and now the mission is in the area, operating,” he said.
The five ships would conduct reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings in the Aegean and share the information “so that policing and law enforcement agencies of Turkey and Greece can take action if they have to,” Breedlove told journalists at a security conference in Munich.
The EU's border agency Frontex will also be informed, he added.
NATO’s Standing Maritime Group Two will not intercept refugees, but only monitor and conduct rescue operations if necessary.
Breedlove said the deployment would likely grow in the short-term.
NATO will later launch a surveillance mission on the Turkey-Syria border but further planning will be needed, Breedlove said.
Some 850,000 of the 1.1 million refugees who arrived in Europe last year arrived by sea to Greece from Turkey, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Over the course of 2015, 805 people died in the Aegean.