Turkey Deal to Train Syria Rebels to be Signed This Month


Turkey said Monday an agreement to train and equip thousands of moderate Syrian opposition fighters would be concluded later in January after several months of talks with the United States. 

The program is a key pillar of Turkish policy on Syria which aims to simultaneously pressure not only Islamist extremists but also the Damascus regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

"A memorandum of understanding is expected to be signed this month. It cannot be delayed any longer," a Turkish foreign ministry official said, asking not to be named.

The program, due to begin in late March, is aiming to train 5,000 fighters each year with a total of 15,000 in the three-year period, according to the same official.

A U.S. official however did not confirm any deal.

"Discussions are ongoing, but we are not yet in a position to say when we might reach an agreement," the U.S. official told AFP. 

Turkey and the United States have been negotiating for months how to respond to the crisis in Syria, and the train and equip program is seen as a way for the two sides to find common ground. 

Turkey's reluctance to take robust action against Islamic State militants who have seized control of swathes of Iraq and Syria right up to the Turkish border has strained ties with its NATO ally. 

Washington is pressing Ankara for the use of the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey to facilitate US jet strikes on IS militants. 

Turkey, however, has refused to succumb to the pressure, and set several conditions for playing a greater role in the U.S.-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 to bring down Assad's regime.

Turkey last year granted permission for the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces through its territory to fight against IS radicals in the Syrian town of Kobane across the border.

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