Turkey FM says training of Syrian rebels to start in May

Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's president Bashar Al-Assad in Old Aleppo, April 26, 2015.

Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons during clashes with forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad in Old Aleppo, April 26, 2015.


A program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels will start on May 9, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday, after previous expectations that Ankara would roll out the program in March.

By the end of the year, Turkey will have trained a total of 2,000 rebels, Cavusoglu said, as quoted by pro-government paper Yeni Safak.

Cavusoglu had earlier also joined Syrian National Coalition President Khaled Khoja’s calls for a safe zone inside Syria, saying that it was necessary of the rebels to be armed and trained.

On Friday, 123 U.S. soldiers arrived in Turkey to train moderate Syrian rebels, bringing with them weapons which are being transferred to İncirlik Airbase in the southern province of Adana.

The U.S. plans to train and arm a force of 15,000 rebels but questions remain on how the force will be protected. The Obama administration primarily sees the force as a counterweight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which seized large parts of territory in Iraq and Syria. But part of the strategy also includes pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by increasing the opposition’s capabilities.

Turkey, on the other hand, wants the U.S. to focus more on fighting the Assad regime.

Cavusoglu has said the rebels will fight both ISIS and the regime forces.


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