Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in New York on September 18. Photo: AA
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — NATO's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussing Ankara's important role to play in preventing "safe havens" for “terrorists” again in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
"Turkey is a key nation when it comes to our security" because of its strategic location on the 29-nation alliance's eastern flank, but also because it borders Iraq and Syria where terrorists operate,” Stoltenberg told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The president and secretary-general met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Monday.
Turkey has already completed a 650-kilometer long wall on the country’s 911-kilometer border with Syria. In June, Erdogan said they have plans to erect a wall
along the entire border with Syria, as well as with Iraq and Iran.
"Turkey's role has been instrumental in closing off the border between northern Syria and Turkey. And this has been very effective in protecting Europe; nevertheless, this is something that we must continue because the enemy gets a vote. They will continue to try and infiltrate Europe and other places around the world with their acts of terror,” US Col. John Dorrian, the former spokesperson for the US-led international anti-ISIS coalition told Rudaw in May.
Foreigners have told Rudaw
of crossing through Turkey into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS in 2015.
Stoltenberg stressed that Erdogan "is very committed to NATO and not only in words but also in deeds."
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told The Associated Press earlier this week that Turkish nationals make up half of the hundreds of families being held in a camp near Mosul for suspected links to ISIS.
Iraqi forces are holding 1,333 women and children who surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces during the Tal Afar operation in August, explained Abadi.
The PM said many of those detained are not guilty of any crime, and Iraq is communicating with their home countries to "find a way to hand them over."
Abadi wants to speed up the process.
“But we are working very hard to accelerate this. It is not in our interest to keep families and children inside our country when their countries are prepared to take them,” he explained.
Iraq has repatriated fewer than 100 people thus far, Abadi said.
ISIS has largely been pushed out of northern Iraq and Syria with the exception of Hawija town in Kirkuk province. Mosul was liberated in July, and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has retaken at least 65 percent of ISIS' claimed capital of Raqqa in Syria.
The coalition and SDF distributed leaflets in Raqqa to inform remaining civilians how to safely flee the surrounded city.
The largest concentration of ISIS militants is now in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, where the group is being squeezed on multiple fronts — Iraqi forces from the east, SDF forces from the northeast, and the Syrian Arab Army with their affiliated militias backed by Iran and Russia from the south and west.
Iraqi forces began on operation on Tuesday to clear ISIS militants from Anbar province near the Euphrates River towns of Ana and Rawa.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis has called the river valley "ISIS's last stand."