NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Turkey will enquire about ways to fight more effectively against ISIS as the host-country’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu emphasised that Turkey is the only member of the alliance bordering the ISIS-held area.
Stoltenberg said, "One of the important issues at this meeting will be how NATO can do even more in fighting terrorism and in fighting ISIS” at the start of the meeting in Turkey’s coastal city of Antalya.
At a press conference ahead of the meeting, Cavusoglu said, “ISIS is our neighbour. It is not a sustainable situation. The existence of ISIS poses a great threat to us. This meeting will be a significant opportunity to share our concerns and suggestions on the ISIS issue with our allies.”
Cavusoglu said, “There are foreign terrorist fighters coming from 90 countries to join ISIS through Turkey. They are also a threat to us. We captured and deported many foreign terrorists - around 1,300. Turkey has implemented a travel ban on about 13,800 foreign terrorist fighters.”
Cavusoglu noted that the ISIS issue is not only a threat to Turkey but also a threat to the future of Iraq and Syria, and therefore, it should be eradicated.
“We need decisive policies for those reasons. Turkey has presented concrete propositions for finding a resolution,” he added.
Another point Cavusoglu drew attention was the need to take the causes of terrorism into account, such as the existence of the Assad regime and how to counter it. NATO chief Stoltenberg echoed the minister’s comments, saying the meeting is considering how the alliance can do more to fight against ISIS.
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.
The Antalya meeting is hosting foreign ministers of 28 allied nations and foreign ministers or senior officials from Afghanistan, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Sweden, Montenegro, Macedonia, Mongolia, Ukraine, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Jordan as well as EU representatives and the special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan.
Train-equip on track, more needed for Syria
Commenting on the train and equip programme that will be run jointly by the US and Turkey, Cavusoglu said, “Our ‘train-equip’ program along with the US towards the moderate opposition forces in Syria will be an effective strategy and will start soon.
“But it will not be enough. We need to decide upon and develop more steps,” he said.
Speaking at a television interview on Tuesday night, Cavusoglu also had said, “Decisions regarding training and involving who, how and where it will be located is made together with the US government. There has been a delay but it was not due to differences of opinion.”
In addition, US ambassador to Turkey John Bass had said on Tuesday that, "There is no problem regarding the train-and-equip programme apart from the logistic issues. It has already begun in one location and will start in other locations including Turkey."
Turkey and the US had signed an agreement to train moderate oppositions against the Assad Regime in Syria on Feb. 17.
In response to the question of whether Turkey has made a request for a no-fly zone or safe fly zone within Syria, Cavusoglu said, “In order for ground teams to succeed, defending the air space is needed. As long as the Assad regime continues air strikes, the troops that are trained on the ground may be destroyed. We cannot just train and leave them unprotected.”
David Ignatius, an influential American columnist, also touched upon the no-fly zone issue in his latest article in the Washington Post. He talked about a “game-changer” which is “a new US willingness to support a no-fly zone along the Turkey-Syria border.”
“This haven, backed by US air power, would allow some refugees to return home while providing a staging area for an expected assault by a US-trained new Syrian army, whose first units have just been formed, against the ISIS’ capital in Raqqa,” Ignatius added.