Mediterranean: NATO Launches War Games Amid Tensions With Syria
July 5, 2012
NATO launches war games in Mediterranean amid tension with Syria
NATO’s joint maritime group is flexing its muscle in the eastern Mediterranean Sea by conducting anti-terrorism drills as tensions between NATO member Turkey and its neighbor Syria escalate.
The Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) is determined “to give a clear message to terrorists in the region that NATO is on duty,” German Rear Admiral Thorsten Kahler told the Turkish daily Hurriyet.
“What we have to make sure is to tell the terrorists to be careful; we are here and providing security for NATO member states,” he said.
The admiral said the group will be heading from Istanbul further into the Mediterranean on July 7. The force currently consists of three frigates from Turkey, Germany and France. The ships are armed with 76-mm and 27-mm guns, Mark 46 anti-submarine torpedoes, surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles and carry helicopters. They are manned by 545 sailors in total.
Kahler took over command of the group from his Turkish colleague Rear Admiral Sinan Azmi Tosun on June 15.
The naval drills come as relations between Turkey and its neighbor Syria remain tense following a recent cross border incident. Syrian troops shot down a Turkish jet last month after it violated the country’s airspace.
Damascus says their military acted in self-defense, but offered an apology for the incident and the subsequent death of the two Turkish pilots onboard.
Ankara said it was an act of aggression on Syria’s part, claiming that the plane crossed the border by incident and was shot down without warning after flying back into the international airspace.
Turkey called a NATO meeting to discuss the incident. The alliance condemned the incident, but refrained from taking any more serious action against Syria.
Syria and Turkey has increasingly been at odds recently over Ankara’s vocal criticism of the Syrian crackdown on its domestic opposition. Following the downing of the jet, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan pledged support to the Syrian opposition in their bid to topple the government.
July 5, 2012
NATO warships move into Mediterranean Sea: Report
A convoy of NATO warships has left Turkey for the Mediterranean Sea purportedly to carry out anti-terrorism operations in the region, a report says.
According to a July 5 report published by the Turkish Hurriyet Daily, the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 set off from Istanbul.
The group consists of Turkey’s TCG Gediz, France’s Courbet and Germany’s Bayern warships and the three frigates have a total of 545 crew members on board, with Germany leading the mission.
German Rear Admiral Thorsten Kahler said on Wednesday that the mission of the maritime group is “to give a clear message to terrorists in the region that NATO is on duty.”
“We are not telling our whole schedule, but we will stay in the region.”
Kahler said the anti-terrorism mission is “the only Article 5 mission of NATO so far.”
Article 5 of the Washington Treaty of NATO says the member states “agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”
The development comes days after Syria said on June 22 that its air defense forces shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom in the Syrian airspace “according to the laws that govern such situations.” The warplane crashed into the Mediterranean Sea.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told TRT television on June 24, “According to our conclusions, our plane was shot down in international airspace, 13 nautical miles from Syria.”
However, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said in a press conference in Damascus on June 25 that the Turkish warplane “violated Syrian airspace, and in turn Syrian air defenses fired back and the plane crashed inside Syrian territorial waters.”
On June 26, the North Atlantic Council, which is the principal political decision-making body within NATO, met in Brussels upon a request from Ankara to discuss the issue of the Turkish aircraft.
The Hurriyet Daily reported on the same day that Ankara had deployed a “large number of military vehicles to the Syrian border,” including “15 armored tanks, in addition to long-distance guns and other military vehicles.”
In addition, the Turkish army said in a statement issued on July 1 that it had scrambled six F-16 warplanes near the border with Syria in response to Syrian helicopters flying close to the region.