Ankara and Washington agree to train 2,000 Syrian rebels in Turkey - report

Ankara and Washington agree to train 2,000 Syrian rebels in Turkey - report
The US and Turkey agreed on plans to train 2,000 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Turkish territory, but the sides failed to agree on the question of training Kurdish groups, which Ankara has labeled members of a terrorist organization.

Following a series of meetings between US European Command (EUCOM) and the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and high-ranking Turkish military officials at the Turkish General Staff’s headquarters, the sides agreed on equipping and training Syrian anti-government rebels at Turkey’s Hirfanli training center in Kirsehir province, Hürriyet Daily News reported.

American military officials, who will also participate in the training, will provide weapons and ammunition for the Syrian opposition.

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Washington is also expected to pick up the bill for the training, which is scheduled to begin at the end of December, the Turkish newspaper said.

However, the two sides failed to agree on the question of training members of Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey has called a terrorist organization.

“At the moment, the PYD is equal with the PKK for us. It is also a terrorist organization. It would be very wrong for America…to expect us to say ‘yes’ after openly announcing such support for a terrorist organization. It cannot expect such a thing from us and we cannot say ‘yes’ to such a thing either,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Anadolu Agency last month.

Despite Turkey’s heated protests, Pentagon officials reportedly said they will train PYD rebels in the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

Reuters / Hosam Katan
Another point of departure between Ankara and Washington involves the question of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who just last year narrowly escaped a US-led invasion after UK Prime Minister David Cameron lost a bid in the House of Commons to ally British forces with the US military, and Assad agreed to hand over the country’s chemical weapons in a Russia-brokered deal.

However, with the sudden rise of militants from the Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL], who are committing crimes including a series of savage beheadings of US and British journalists, the US military is now bombing IS positions in northern Syria. Some say the maneuver was a ploy to allow the US military to oust Assad through less direct means.

The US has been pushing for Turkey to become more involved in the conflict – particularly in the Syrian town of Kobani, where Kurds are resisting an onslaught by militants. However, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has resisted over fears of empowering Kurdish factions in his own country that could push for independence.

Turkey is also reluctant to enter the fight against the Islamic State without receiving assurances from the US that it will help topple the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom Ankara opposes. So far, the US has declined to make such a pledge. Officially Washington continues to say that its primary concern is to push back IS militants in Iraq and Syria, where the group has made some territorial gains.

Meanwhile, the CIA is planning to train about 5,000 Syrian rebels a year, The Washington Postreportedon Friday, which seems to coincide too perfectly with the Turkish announcement to be a mere coincidence.

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told congressional leaders this week that preparations for the training program are now “complete,” and that “Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other partner nations have agreed to host training sites.”

US military planners said they are working on organizing recruits to fight against the Islamic State, but say they may not be able to control the newly trained rebels once they graduate from CIA and US military camps.

“There’s going to be fighting in Syria that we cannot necessarily predict,” retired Marine Corps General John R. Allen, the Obama administration’s coordinator for the Syria and Iraq coalition, said in an interview with Al Jazeera last month.