Turkey to Delay Training of Syrian Rebels

Associated Press (AP)14.05.2015 Syria
Turkey to Delay Training of Syrian Rebels

Turkey to Delay Training of Syrian Rebels

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Turkey’s Foreign Minister said the start of a joint Turkish-U.S. program to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State group has been delayed, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview on Turkish state television Monday that the program has been pushed back due to technical reasons and not because of any disagreement with the United States. He did not say when the program would start.

Turkey and the U.S. reached a deal on training and arming the rebels in February after several months of negotiations. Turkish officials had previously said training would begin in March but later pushed the start date to May.

The U.S. Defense Department has said it is aiming to train 5,000 Syrians a year for three years in Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Last week, the US military said it has begun training a small group of Syrian rebels in an effort to build a force capable of defeating Islamic State (ISIS) militants.

Ashton Carter, US Defense Secretary, said about 90 people were being trained in a secure location, and they would be paid by the United States. Supporting the troops militarily on the battlefield has not been ruled out.

Nearly 4,000 fighters volunteered for the program but, after an extensive screening process, only 400 were given places.

“We're starting with the people that we have that we've vetted very carefully. We expect that to be successful and therefore to grow. But you have to start somewhere, and this is where we're starting,” Carter said.

Carter was at pains to point out that the role of the force would be to take on the Islamic State and not the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. However, he did not say what would happen if the rebels engaged the Syrian Army.

“We have not determined yet all of the rules of engagement... but we have acknowledged that we have some responsibility to support them,” the Defense Secretary said.

The fighters will be paid by the United States, and, when deployed, will continue to receive back up and support from coalition forces.

There are about 450 coalition forces involved in the training at the four sites, including about 350 Americans.

The Pentagon intends to train and arm more than 15,000 rebels over the next three years. But Carter made it clear that the support did come with strict conditions.

“An explicit part of their training is how to conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with international law. Any continued support for them would be strongly conditioned upon their continued good conduct,” he said.

The Pentagon would not disclose when the troops would be ready to enter the battlefield.

Since last year, the US has been part of an international coalition conducting an air strike campaign against Islamic State, which took over large swathes of Syria and Iraq in a lightning offensive.

Source: AP; BBC; File Photo



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