Training of Syrian rebels to begin May 9, says FM Cavugoglu

A program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels that was expected to begin in March will get under way on May 9, Foreign Minister Mevlut cavuioilu was quoted as saying on Saturday.

A group of 300 rebels will go through the program in the first phase, to be followed by a second batch of 300 fighters, cavuioilu said in remarks published in pro-government daily Yeni iafak. A total of 2,000 rebels will have been trained by the end of the year, he said. Turkey has previously said the program was due to begin on March 1. cavuioilu said the transfer of equipment and personnel took some time, dismissing the idea that any political disagreement with the US hindering the program.

The US plans to train and arm a force of 15,000 Syrian rebels, but questions remain on how the force will be protected. The administration of President Barack Obama primarily sees the force as a counterweight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has seized large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. However, part of the strategy also includes increasing the pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by increasing the opposition’s capabilities. Turkey, on the other hand, wants the US to focus more on fighting the Assad regime.

cavuioilu said the rebels would fight both ISIL and the regime’s forces.

Turkey’s foreign minister also insisted on the establishment of a secure zone inside Syria, saying it is necessary for the rebels who will be armed and trained. He also asserted that Turkey and the US agree that some degree of logistical support should be made available to protect the opposition fighters on the ground but did not elaborate on the specifics. cavuioilu dismissed the idea of sending Turkish troops in cooperation with the US to Syria, saying that the rebels could be offered assistance, in the form of “consultations,” but added that there has been no decision made on sending Turkish and American troops to Syria. cavuioilu ‘s remarks followed a report last month which claimed that Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been in extensive talks on a joint initiative to oust the Assad regime. “Turkey would provide ground troops, supported by Saudi Arabian airstrikes, to assist moderate Syrian opposition fighters against Assad’s regime,” a source was quoted as saying in the report, which appeared in The Huffington Post. The US is staying out of the process but has apparently been aware of the Turkish-Saudi talks, according to the report.