US and Turkey sign deal to equip, train Syrian rebels

Rebel fighters drive a tank near the front line in the village of Ratyan north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19
Rebel fighters drive a tank near the front line in the village of Ratyan north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19 AFP / Zein Al Rifai
4 min

The United States and Turkey on Thursday signed a deal to train and equip thousands of moderate Syrian rebel forces after several weeks of talks, officials said.


"Turkey and the United States signed a document a short time ago on the train-and-equip (programme)," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters.

A US embassy spokesman, contacted by AFP, confirmed that the deal was inked in Ankara by Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and US ambassador to Turkey John Bass.

The announcement puts an end to months of difficult negotiations between the NATO allies on how to train Syrian rebel forces and which enemy they should focus on.

UN investigators said Friday they were prepared to publish secret lists of alleged war criminals in Syria to help stem an "exponential rise" in rights violations in the war-ravaged country.

The Commission of Inquiry has been drawing up lists of those suspected of war crimes throughout Syria's near four-year civil war, but has until now kept them secret out of concern for due process.

But in its latest report to the UN Human Right’s Council, the four-member commission said they were ready to shift their approach in order to put "alleged perpetrators on notice", in a move it hopes will "serve to maximise the potential deterrent effect".

"Not to publish the names at this juncture of the investigation would be to reinforce the impunity that the commission was mandated to combat," the report said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Turkey, a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, wants rebel factions to be trained to battle both the regime in Damascus as well as the Islamic State (IS) insurgents who have seized large chunks of territory in Iraq and Syria right up to the Turkish border.

Washington, whose aircraft target IS positions in Syria, wants to train the rebel forces as part of its fight against IS.

"Those forces will fight both Daesh and other terrorist organisations on the ground, as well as the regime," Cavusoglu said, using an alternative name for IS.

The US government hopes the programme can begin by late March, so the first trained rebel forces can be operational by year's end, according to the Pentagon.

The goal is to train more than 5,000 Syrians in the first year of the programme, and a total of 15,000 over a three-year period.

The fighters will be trained in the Turkish town of Kirsehir in central Anatolia.

The details of the agreement were not immediately clear but the train-and-equip programme is seen as a way for both sides to find common ground.

Ankara's reluctance to take robust action against IS militants has strained ties with the US, which is pressing Ankara for the use of Incirlik air base in southern Turkey to facilitate US jet strikes on the radicals.

Turkey, however, has refused to succumb to the pressure and set several conditions for playing a greater role in the US-led coalition against IS.

Those included the creation of a no-fly zone, as well as the training of moderate Syrian rebels, with an ultimate goal of bringing down the Assad regime.

Last year, Turkey granted permission for the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces through its territory to fight against IS in the Syrian town of Kobane across the border.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Hurriyet daily on Sunday that he no longer enjoyed good relations with US President Barack Obama, in part over their differences on how to respond to the conflict in Syria.


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