Turkey, US to sign deal to train Syrian rebels

Updated: 2015-01-06 10:20


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Turkey, US to sign deal to train Syrian rebels

A rebel fighter runs to avoid snipers at al-Breij frontline in Aleppo, January 5, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

ANKARA - Turkey and the United States are expected to sign a deal this month to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters as part of efforts to battle Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, a foreign ministry official said on Monday.

The training and equipping program is expected to launch in March simultaneously in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, according to the official.

"A memorandum of understanding is expected to be signed this month," the official noted.

The program aims to train a total of 15,000 Syrian opposition fighters in the three year period, the official said, adding that 5,000 of them will be trained at a military base in the central Turkish city of Kirsehir.

A committee of Turkish and US officials will decide on which Syrian opposition fighters to be trained, said the official.

The IS militants have seized large swathes of territory in Syria. Ankara and Washington have been in negotiation on how to respond to the crisis in Syria.

Turkey is reluctant to take robust measures and declined to be a fully-fledged part of the anti-IS coalition unless Washington agrees to adopt an "integrated strategy" that also targets the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Meanwhile, Washington is pressing Ankara for the use of the Incirlik airbase in Adana province in southern Turkey for operational needs of anti-IS coalition members. US government also said the priority is not Assad but militant threat from the IS.

Turkey, once an ally of Assad, is now the fiercest opponent of Assad regime and has been supporting the opposition trying to topple him since 2011.