Following testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Supreme Allied Commander Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday that the “dawning challenge of mass migration” spurred by the ongoing conflict in Syria and the threat of ISIS in the Middle East was allowing terrorists seeking to do harm in Europe and the United States free movement into the continent.
He said that the movement “masks the movement of criminals, terrorists and foreign fighters (into Europe). Within this mix (ISIS) is spreading like a cancer, taking advantage of paths of least resistance and threatening European nations, and our own, with terrorist attacks.”
Rights groups have cautioned against scapegoating refugees in the wake of attacks like the deadly coordinated attacks in Paris in November 2015.
“Significant refugee flows to Europe, spurred largely by the Syrian conflict, coupled with broadening attacks on civilians in the name of the extremist group (ISIS), have led to growing fear-mongering and Islamophobia,” Human Rights Watch said in its 2016 World Report.
Breedlove told the Senate Armed Services Committee that alongside the threat posed by extremist organizations in Europe was the potential for unrest from local nationalists opposed to the unprecedented influx of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and unstable parts of Africa. Fears are they could become increasingly violent, building on the small number of attacks against migrant and refugee populations.
In his Pentagon appearance Breedlove also pointed a finger at a “resurgent, aggressive Russia,” which “poses a long-term and existential threat to the U.S. and our European allies.”
Russia’s continued involvement in the Syrian civil war, which Breedlove said had bolstered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, has changed the dynamic in the theater and “complicated the problem… in the air and on the ground.”
The view is compounded by Pentagon reports that Russia is using the nascent, shaky ceasefire in Syria to seize key territory.
Relations between Turkey, the only Muslim-majority member of NATO, and Russia also threatened security, with tensions between the two increasing the “risk of miscalculation or even confrontation. (Courtesy CNN)