NATO military authorities will draw up plans for how the alliance could help shut down illegal migration and smuggling of people across the Aegean Sea, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday.
Carter made the announcement at a press conference after three NATO allies —Turkey, Germany and Greece— requested alliance participation in an international effort to help ease Europe's gravest migration crisis since World War II.
The three countries made the request at a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels. NATO ministers "tasked NATO military authorities to provide its advice for options for implementing it," Carter said.
NATO's Military Committee will review those recommendations and submit them to the North Atlantic Council, NATO's chief decision-making body.
Earlier this week, the International Organization for Migration said 409 people have died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and that nearly 10 times as many migrants crossed in the first six weeks of 2016 as in the same period last year. Most come from Turkey to Greece and then try to head north through Europe to more prosperous countries like Germany and Sweden.
IOM said 76,000 people — nearly 2,000 per day — have reached Europe by sea since Jan. 1.
"There is now a criminal syndicate which is exploiting these poor people," Carter said. "Targeting that is the greatest way an effect could be had."
During a visit to The Hague on Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he and his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, agreed to work together with NATO and Frontex, the European Union's border agency, "against the human traffickers who exploit the Syrian refugees and pave the way for their deaths at sea."