Top US commander for NATO due to visit Turkey’s Kırşehir for train-equip program
Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
REUTERS PhotoNATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and Commander of U.S. European Command Gen. Phil Breedlove will on May 12 visit the Central Anatolian province of Kırşehir, where Turkey and the U.S. are due to start a train-equip program for the moderate Syrian opposition.
Breedlove will also attend a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Antalya on May 13-14.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu earlier announced that the train-equip program will begin on May 9, after a delay due to the transfer of personnel and equipment. The program will start with some 300 Syrians at the outset, followed by a second group of 300.
Overall, a total of 2,000 Syrian fighters will be trained in Turkey by 2016, he added. The U.S. military has launched a long-awaited program to train moderate rebels from Syria, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said on May 7.
U.S Defense Secretary Carter, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said military officials are training about 90 Syrians at a foreign location, and that additional training would begin at a second site in a few weeks.
More than 450 coalition personnel have been deployed to Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to support the mission. Training in Jordan started a few days ago. According to Pentagon officials, more than 3,750 Syrians volunteered for the training and roughly 400 have completed “pre-screening.”
Speaking on May 8, Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said there is “no problem” with preparations for the program of training and equipping the Syrian opposition, adding that the U.S. and Turkey will kick off the program in the “upcoming days.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith had described the U.S. trainers as part of a “multinational team of instructors.”
“A number of coalition personnel have already been deployed to the training sites to prepare for the arrival of the Syrian volunteers. U.S. personnel are just part of the multinational team of instructors. The report that 123 U.S. trainers arrived in Turkey last week is both unfounded and erroneous. For operational security reasons we will not release the training locations or the composition of the multinational training team,” Smith said. The plan to forge a moderate Syrian rebel force has been marked by disagreement between the United States and its allies. Turkey and other some other regional governments want the rebels to confront the Syrian regime, while Washington says the first priority must be combating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bilgiç also refuted recent claims by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Secretary-General Gürsel Tekin that Turkish troops would intervene in Syria within two days.
“As of today [Friday] it is two days overdue. The Turkish army has not entered Syria,” Bilgiç said. “It is pointless to comment too much on this. It is already clear that these allegations are not true,” he added.