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.