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AFP

Turkey and US sign deal to train Syria rebels

Washington wants to train the rebel forces as part of its fight against IS [AFP]

Date of publication: 19 February, 2015

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US military plans to train 15,000 Syrian fighters over a three-year period to battle the Islamic State group in Syria.

The United States and Turkey signed a deal to train and equip thousands of moderate Syrian rebel forces after several weeks of talks, officials confirmed on Thursday.

A US embassy spokesman said that the deal was inked in Ankara by Turkey's foreign ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and US ambassador to Turkey John Bass.

The announcement puts an end to months of difficult negotiations between the NATO allies on how to train Syrian rebel forces and which enemy they should focus on.

Turkey, a vocal critic of Bashar al-Assad, wants rebels factions to be trained to battle both the regime in Damascus as well as the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS) insurgents who have seized large chunks of territory in Iraq and Syria right up to the Turkish border.

Washington, who have launched air strikes on IS positions in Syria, wants to train the rebel forces as part of its fight against IS.

The US government hopes the programme can begin by late March, so the first trained rebel forces can be operational by year's end, according to the Pentagon.

     The goal is to train more than 5,000 Syrians in the first year of the programme.


The goal is to train more than 5,000 Syrians in the first year of the programme, and a total of 15,000 over a three-year period.

The fighters will be trained in the Turkish town of Kirsehir in central Anatolia.

The details of the agreement were not immediately clear but the train-and-equip programme is seen as a way for both sides to find common ground.

Turkey's reluctance to take robust action against IS militants has strained ties with the US, which is pressing Ankara for the use of Incirlik air base in southern Turkey to facilitate US jet strikes on the extremist group.

Turkey, however, has refused to succumb to the pressure and set several conditions for playing a greater role in the US-led coalition against IS.

Those included the creation of a no-fly zone, as well as the training of moderate Syrian rebels, with an ultimate goal of bringing down the Assad regime.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Hurriyet daily on Sunday that he no longer enjoyed good relations with US President Barack Obama, in part over their differences on how to respond to the conflict in Syria.

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