Turkey urges end to NATO mission in Aegean by end of year
BRUSSELS - Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik called for the NATO migrant mission in the Aegean Sea to be completed "by the end of the year" because it had "reached its goal".
"For us there is no need for NATO forces in the Aegean," Isik told reporters on Thursday after a meeting in Brussels with defence ministers from NATO member states.
"This was a temporary mission, and the goal has been reached... There is no reason to extend it," Isik was quoted as saying by the official news agency Anadolu.
The minister was referring to the mission launched in February to tackle the huge flow of refugees and migrants to Greece on board rickety boats.
Several warships were involved in the mission launched after Turkey, Greece and Germany requested it.
Isik said Turkey would remain committed to tackling the flow of migrants and asked that the NATO mission be brought to an end "by the end of this year".
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg praised the mission, saying it had "decreased substantially" the flow of migrants and was "making a difference".
Asked whether the mission would continue in 2017, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said: "We'll see then."
Nearly a million people fleeing war, poverty and persecution arrived on the Greek islands last year in Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II.
The number of arrivals in Greece has dropped dramatically this year, thanks to an EU-Turkey deal that went into force since March.
However, thousands of migrants have continued taking the more dangerous central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy, over 5,000 of whom have died at sea.