By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity
ISTANBUL, September 13, 2015 — Russian aggression is of concern to the 28-member NATO alliance, with Moscow likely knowing that going into Ukraine is much different than "crossing a NATO border," the commander of U.S. forces in Europe said.
"The issue of a revanchist Russia, which is now changing borders in Europe by force, has sort of brought everybody's attention," said Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and Commander of U.S. European Command.
He spoke to reporters yesterday, after a day-long meeting here of NATO chiefs of defense.
"Today one thing came up again and again, and that thing is unity," Breedlove said. "Our alliance is as unified as I've ever seen it."
The threat of terrorism is another problem facing the alliance, as returning foreign fighters or other extremists take advantage of refugee migrations and move in the flow of people, Breedlove said.
Host nation Turkey, he noted, borders "ungoverned space" in Syria and Iraq. It is a challenge not only for Turkey, but also for NATO.
The bloc will address both Russia and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, he said.
"Our alliance is big enough to do it, our nations have the capability to do it," he said. "With the political will, and the military will, which I saw here, I am encouraged by the fact that we see this as something we don't have to decide one or the other."
While NATO does not have a mandate to address the migrant crisis in Europe, Breedlove said, the alliance could do a mission in conjunction with other organizations such as the European Union or United Nations.
"We could play a part if asked and if our political leadership gives us the mandate," he said.
The military chiefs discussed NATO's mission in Afghanistan, Resolute Support.
"Our commitment to Afghanistan is firm," Breedlove said. "Our focus is on the future and our enduring partnership shows our determination to help the Afghans preserve the gains we have achieved together."
The chairman of the NATO Military Committee Conference, Czech Gen. Petr Pavel, said the military leaders stressed the need to ensure NATO forces and equipment can move rapidly across the alliance.
NATO’s greatest responsibility, he said, is to protect and defend the 28 member states against any threat.
"Terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of NATO, and to international stability and prosperity more broadly and will remain a threat for the foreseeable future," Pavel said in his closing remarks Saturday.
"The security of the alliance is indivisible. We stand in solidarity against terrorism of any kind, its root causes and its wider consequences," he said.
Russia in Syria
The United States and international community, Breedlove said, are "watching with concern" Russia's activities in Syria. However, he said he does not know what exactly those activities are.
"We have heard everything from humanitarian operations to combat operations, so it remains to be seen what this will be in the end," Breedlove said. "What we are most concerned about is any operations that would continue to support the Assad regime and its terrible actions against its own people."
While Russia has crossed into Ukraine, Russian President Vladmir Putin would understand "fully what crossing a NATO boundary is," Breedlove said.
"Clearly, Mr. Putin has made decisions and they have used force to invade and now occupy Ukraine's Crimea and they have used force to invade and now occupy portions of the Donbas, but I think that crossing those international borders is clearly different than crossing a NATO border," Breedlove said.
There is an "intense period of training exercises across the land, sea and air domains" coming up in October, he said, adding "I'm extremely confident that our military capability is remaining and will remain as potent as ever."
He hailed U.S. cooperation with Turkey in the fight against ISIL. Turkey recently joined the air campaign and allows its Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey to be used for air operations against ISIL.
The cooperation at Incirlik is "spectacular," with a "superior team forming," Breedlove said. "Right now, I cannot be more complimentary of the team as they work together against this tough problem."