NATO Commander lifts foreign fighters blame from Turkey’s shoulders

Top NATO Commander Philip Breedlove said that Turkey does not consent to any facilitation of foreign fighters to Syria, lifting a long-held accusations that not enough implemented by Turkey to prevent entry of fighters into Syria

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Philip Breedlove, the Commander of US European Command and the 17th Supreme Allied Commander of Europe (SACEUR) of NATO’s Allied Command Operations, has said Thursday that he has seen no evidence that Turkey is allowing foreign fighters into Syria, clearing the blame on Turkey for not conducting necessary border controls on its 400 kilometers long border with Syria.

Turkey was previously accused by some Western officials for not carrying out enough border controls to prevent entry of foreigners crossing into Syria to join militant groups.

However, Turkey had refuted the accusations, claiming that Western sources does not share necessary intelligence information and allows the entries to Turkey in the first place.

Breedlove made the comment during the US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on European Command’s program and its 2016 budget, where he also claimed that Russia aims to strengthen its strategic position using the Ukraine conflict as a proxy war.

General Breedlove said “I have no indications at all that Turkey is allowing any foreign fighter flows or allowing any facilitation of foreign fighters,” after he was questioned over Turkey’s role in battling ISIS and claims of some that the Turkish authorities are allowing foreign fighters to enter Syria.  

“I do know that they are working with us and other NATO nations to share those pieces of intelligence and tactics, techniques, and procedures to get after foreign fighter flows because we know that there all the nations around Syria and Iraq, these are problems for those nations, flows of these foreign fighters,” he added.

Breedlove also reminded the geographic location of Turkey is troublesome and said, “Turkey is in a pretty tough neighborhood. To their north, the Black Sea and the revanchist Russia, to their south, ISIL and ISIS. So Turkey is in a pretty tough neighborhood right now and working to deal with it.”

When asked from where those foreign fighters are flowing into Syria, he replied, “Clearly, they're flowing from all around the world, to include this nation, are flowing into Syria. So foreign fighters are flowing into Syria from many nations and many vectors from the south, as well.”

The General told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “Foreign fighters are part of a much broader pattern of insecurity to  Europe's south, with roots in the Middle East and North Africa.  Transit routes are shared by violent extremists, organised criminal networks, and migrant populations fleeing difficult conditions in Libya and other under-governed places.” 

Between 10,000 to 15,000 foreign fighters are reported to have joined with Syrian opposition groups and ISIS since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2012, according to United Nations Human Rights investigators. 

Turkey, which neighbours Syria, hosts 300,000 Iraqi refugees in addition to 1.7 million Syrian refugees.

General Breedlove also touched upon that “Russia is blatantly challenging the rules and principles that have been the bedrock of European security for decades,” during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

“This is global. It's not regional, and it is enduring, not temporary. Russian aggression is clearly visible in its illegal occupation of Crimea, and in its continued operations in eastern Ukraine,” he added.

He stated, "’Should the United States and others provide weapons to Ukraine? What we see is a Russia that is aggressively applying all elements of national power - diplomatic, informational, and economic, as well as military.  So my view, it would not make sense to unnecessarily take any of our own tools off the table,” during the committee hearing.

Russia has supported Ukrainian separatists in eastern Ukraine since the armed conflict began in early 2014.

Turkey became a NATO member in 1952, during the course of the Cold War, in order to counter the threat posed by the communist Soviet Union.