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American Forces Press Service

U.S., Turkish Leaders Discuss Syrian War, Region

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Sept. 18, 2012 – U.S. and Turkish leaders have a similar view of events in Syria and agreed to work together on that and other regional issues, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey spoke about his meetings in Ankara, Turkey, during his flight back to Washington.

The war in Syria is the regional issue with the most notoriety, the chairman said. While hard numbers are tough to come by, tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled as Syrians tried to overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad.

Turkey shares a border with Syria, and thousands of Syrians have taken refuge in Turkey. Fighting in Aleppo, Syria, has caused the numbers of Syrians fleeing to spike.

Dempsey met with his Turkish counterpart, Gen. Necdet Ozel, Minister of National Defense Ismet Yilmaz and officials at Turkey’s Foreign Ministry. “We shared our insights into the common interests we are both trying to address in the region,” Dempsey said. “We agreed to recommit ourselves to collaborate on the regional issues -- not just issues unique to either Turkey or the United States.”

Syria is the epicenter of instability in the region, and events there tangle the threads that weave through the area, the chairman said. The Turks are worried about the thread of violent extremism and groups taking advantage of instability, whether those groups are al-Qaida or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, better known as PKK.

The Turks also are worried about Iranian influence in Syria and the region, and the chairman said he and Turkish officials discussed the whole cloth these threads make.

“That’s the piece of this that I was encouraged by,” Dempsey said. “They are not looking at Syria through a soda straw any more than we are.”

The Turks told the chairman they are concerned about the prolonged nature of the conflict. They believe the longer the fighting lasts in Syria, the greater the chances of sectarian division.

The Turks discussed humanitarian efforts. More than 200,000 Syrians have fled the country, and between 400,000 and 500,000 are “internally displaced” people.

“The Turks are actually quite proud of what they have been able to accomplish in their southern provinces to help take care of the Syrians,” Dempsey said, “but they are also concerned about the continuing influx of refugees and are reaching out to the international community to assist them in that regard.”

Turkish leaders did not ask for any U.S. military assistance for the refugees. The American commitment to Turkey is “the U.S. will continue to monitor the situation, and we will continue to engage at all levels in order to think through some of the contingencies that might occur with regard to the humanitarian issue,” Dempsey said.

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