Support our mission
In a 2010 file photo, three suspected drug smugglers agree to a consensual boarding of their ridged hull inflatable boat by U.S. sailors during routine operations by the USS Elrod in the Western Mediterranean Sea. Now, U.S. ships will join the effort in the Aegean Sea against a different type of smuggling, of migrants.

In a 2010 file photo, three suspected drug smugglers agree to a consensual boarding of their ridged hull inflatable boat by U.S. sailors during routine operations by the USS Elrod in the Western Mediterranean Sea. Now, U.S. ships will join the effort in the Aegean Sea against a different type of smuggling, of migrants. (U.S. Navy)

NAPLES, Italy — A U.S. naval vessel will join a NATO deployment targeting smugglers in the Aegean Sea, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Thursday.

The move would mark the first major American contribution to a mission aimed at halting illegal migration into Europe. Nearly 200,000 migrants have entered Europe so far in 2016, the vast majority of them by sea.

NATO deployed one of its standing maritime groups to the sea in February after Greece and Turkey requested help with the deluge of migrants moving from Turkey to Greece in hopes of traveling on to wealthier countries in Europe. Many rely on smugglers to get them across. The five ships are tasked with providing intelligence and surveillance to the two countries’ coast guards, as opposed to intercepting the small migrant boats.

Migrant arrivals in Greece have plummeted in recent weeks following a March deal struck by Turkey and Germany that returns migrants unlikely to be granted refugee status to Turkey in exchange for those likely to be granted the status.

Many of the migrants crossing the Aegean travel onward to Germany.

Kerry said Thursday while in Brussels that the U.S. is “finalizing plans” for the deployment. A spokeswoman for U.S. 6th Fleet in Naples said the command had yet to receive a formal tasking to deploy any assets to the Aegean.

The NATO deployment is one of two European military operations aimed at stopping migrant flows to the Continent. The other is a European Union mission in the Central Mediterranean intended to target smuggling networks operating in Libya.

U.S. 6th Fleet has occasionally passed along intelligence to countries involved in that operation, fleet commander Vice Adm. James Foggo III has said. But it has so far not devoted any of its own resources to the mission.

Migrant flows out of Libya have picked up in recent months as people leave countries like Nigeria and Eritrea. Experts say there is no evidence that Syrian refugees, who make up the bulk of migrants entering Greece, are moving in significant numbers toward the Libyan crossing.

beardsley.steven@stripes.com Twitter: @sjbeardsley


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up