Train-equip of Syrian opposition likely to be sealed in January

Train-equip of Syrian opposition likely to be sealed in January

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Train-equip of Syrian opposition likely to be sealed in January

Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants are seen in this file photo. REUTERS photo

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United States on a program for training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition is likely to be signed in January, a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official has told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The project, which aims to battle jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levent (ISIL) group, would start in March simultaneously with other hosting countries, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A total of 15,000 Syrians will be trained in Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia over three years as part of the campaign against ISIL insurgents.

Turkish and U.S. forces will train a total of 5,000 moderate Syrian opposition fighters in three years at a
base in the Central Anatolian province of Kırşehir, said the official.

Negotiations with the U.S. are being conducted by Turkish military officials, and the remaining talks are focused on wording of the agreement, the official also said.

Stressing two important aspects of the deal, the official said a selection committee composed of Turkish and U.S. officials will decide on whom to be trained.

On the MoU, a vague definition of target of trained Syrian opposition fighters will provide Ankara with constructive ambiguity, as Turkey continues to insist that the struggle should not only be directed against ISIL militants, but also against Syrian regime forces.

Talks for the use of the İncirlik airbase for coalition operations are still ongoing, the official also said, adding that there is still no progress on the issue of a no-fly zone and safe haven in Syria.

Ankara has long sought a no-fly zone or secure area along the Syrian-Turkish border, but Washington has expressed reluctance for such plans, insisting that a buffer zone would not be the best way to relieve the humanitarian crisis in northern Syria.

Turkey insists that a protected zone along the Syrian-Turkish border would help safeguard opposition fighters being trained in Syria, while also stopping a feared flow of refugees to Turkey in the case of a major defeat of opposition forces in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.

“After the framework [for training and equipping] is determined, airstrikes and the use of İncirlik Air Base will be discussed in one package,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in December.