US-Turkey trained rebels will fight against both ISIL and Syrian regime: Turkish FM

US-Turkey trained rebels will fight against both ISIL and Syrian regime: Turkish FM

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
US-Turkey trained rebels will fight against both ISIL and Syrian regime: Turkish FM

Rebel fighters drive a tank near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. AFP Photo

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said Syrian opposition groups to be trained and equipped by a joint U.S.-Turkey program will also fight against the Syrian regime.

The trained Syrian opposition members are “expected to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] and elements of the [Syrian] regime,” Çavuşoğlu said Feb. 19 to answer whether the program also aims to struggle against Syrian regime forces. Turkey and the U.S. were on the same page on this issue, Çavuşoğlu said.

The trained Syrian opposition members would “naturally fight against elements threatening the integrity of Syria,” he said, noting that both “terrorist organizations, especially ISIL and the Syrian regime, are a threat to Syria’s stability. … They both kill innocent people,” he said.

The train-equip deal between Turkey and the U.S. is at the last stage and would be signed shortly, Çavuşoğlu said while speaking at a joint press conference with Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hashim Thaçi.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) will be sealed by U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass and a Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu within several days, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News. Sinirlioğlu will travel to Washington next week and a visit by Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu to the U.S. is also planned, the official also said. 

Turkey offered a vague definition on the MoU for the target of the trained Syrian opposition fighters, as Turkey insists the struggle should not only be directed against ISIL militants, but also against Syrian regime forces.

Training of the Peshmerga in northern Iraq will also be a part of the MoU between Turkey and the U.S., as 20 Turkish soldiers will participate in the training program of Kurdish forces as part of the struggle against ISIL.

Meanwhile, citing U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura’s plan to freeze the fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey supported the envoy’s plan despite its “flaws” because even one day of a cease-fire would prevent the killing of hundreds of people.

He questioned whether the cease-fire would be practiced by the regime forces.

“A rooted solution is needed in Syria,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should leave power and a national administration should replace him so that a real solution can be achieved the minister noted.

Elaborating on his meeting with U.S. Congressman Michael Turner – a long-time member of the House Armed Services Committee – and U.S. Senator Bob Corker on Feb. 19, Çavuşoğlu said they discussed bilateral and regional issues such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Ukraine.

Turkey training over 1,000 Kurdish fighters

The number of Peshmerga forces that Turkish soldiers have provided training for exceeds 1,000, a Turkish official said.

The Turkish Special Forces, known as the “maroon berets,” launched the training program for the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq in November.