Gen. Martin Dempsey Calls Migrant Flow Into Europe a 'Real Crisis'

PHOTO: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey briefs reporters about ongoing operations against Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq during a news conference at the Pentagon, Sept. 26, 2014.PlayJ. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
WATCH Joint Chiefs Chairman: Refugee Crisis 'Most Prominent Issue' Among Military Leaders

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, called the flow of migrants into Europe from Syria and North Africa “a huge problem” and acknowledged that there is a growing recognition among U.S. and NATO military leaders “that this is a real crisis."

In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, Dempsey said the issue of migrants flowing into Europe has been “the most prominent issue” discussed by U.S. and NATO military leaders at regular meetings the past few months. More of Dempsey's interview will air this Sunday on ABC News' “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“The southern Europeans feel as though they’re not gaining enough support for this challenge, the central and northern European leaders feel as though it’s a problem that needs to be dealt with in the south,” Dempsey said. “Although, I think there’s beginning to be a bit of recognition that this is, this is a real crisis."

Dempsey said that the issue of migrants fleeing violence in Syria and North Africa is “something I’m concerned about.”

Dempsey added that one of the things that's changed since he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "is the prominence of this refugee and internally displaced person problem, and it is a huge problem.” Dempsey’s term as chairman ends on Oct. 1, when Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford will succeed him as the nation’s top military officer.

The image of a 3-year-old Syrian boy who had drowned off the coast of Turkey has galvanized world attention on the migrants desperately fleeing the war in Syria for Europe.

Dempsey said the photos may have a similar effect to the 1995 deadly mortar attack on a Sarajevo market square that tipped the balance in favor of NATO’s intervention in Bosnia.

“I remember the world stopped and looked at Sarajevo,” Dempsey said. “Today, while we sit here, there’s 60 million refugees in the world, 42,000 families a day according to the U.N., and it just feels like there’s not the level of interest in it that that one incident in Sarajevo generated, you know, just, 20 years ago.”

Dempsey said the implications of a breakdown of family units among those 60 million refugees is an issue that future leaders will deal with for decades.

“My own judgment on this is we need to look both unilaterally and with partners at these issues as a generational problem, and organize ourselves and resource ourselves at a sustainable level to deal with it for 20 years,” said Dempsey.

Dempsey said he was aware of unconfirmed press reports that Russia’s military might be looking at more active ways to back the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad against ISIS and other rebel groups.

Dempsey said a Russian effort to train and equip Syria’s military “would be one thing,” but “if they actually participate in the campaign against, what they believe to be ISIL, it could complicate things.” ISIL is another name used to describe ISIS.

“I don’t think they would be as discriminating among groups as maybe we would,” Dempsey said. “I mean there’s probably four, five, six, 10, 15 groups, and if they’re all declared to be anti-regime, and then the weight of this effort would be thrown against them, then I think that’s a problem.”