US presses Turkey to train rebels

Published: Saturday 11th October 2014 by The News Editor

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America wants to know how far Turkey is willing to go in helping train and equip moderate opposition fighters trying to topple Syrian president Bashar Assad, including whether it will conduct training on its own land, US defence secretary Chuck Hagel has said.

Turkey has agreed to support efforts to train and equip the Syrian opposition, but the US does not yet know whether Ankara is willing to do the training inside Turkey itself.

Saudi Arabia, for instance, has agreed to host training facilities for Syrian rebels on its territory and US officials are still discussing the details with Turkish officials.

“The specifics that go with train and equip – locations, contributions, trainers – will be part of that conversation,” Mr Hagel said in Colombia, his first stop on a six-day trip to South and Central America.

“Part of those discussions will include how far Turkey is willing to go. Certainly one of those questions will be, will they be willing to provide training locations?”

Mr Hagel said a joint team from US Central Command and US European Command will travel to Turkey next week and discuss the different ways it can contribute to the effort to degrade the Islamic State (IS) group militants.

Assad’s forces continue to fight opposition forces, but the Syrian civil war – now in its fourth year – has been eclipsed by the Islamic militants’ battle to overrun the city of Kobani along Syria’s border with Turkey.

In recent months the extremists have taken control of territory across Iraq and Syria at lightning speed. US and coalition forces have been launching air strikes near Kobani, which officials believe could fall to the militants.

The US has been urging Turkey to get more involved in the battle against the extremists. Ankara has hesitated and has persistently asked America to set up a safe zone along Turkey’s border with Syria. Mr Hagel said earlier that such a zone was not actively being considered, although US officials are open to discussing it.

Mr Hagel said that in addition to helping train the Syrian opposition, the US would also like access to the southern Turkish air base at Incirlik from which to launch strikes against the Islamic militants.

Asked if Turkey had agreed to give the US access to Incirlik, Mr Hagel said only that “basing rights would be helpful” and that it would be part of the discussions.

His comments came during a press conference at the air base here, where he watched a demonstration by Colombia’s special operations forces.

Mr Hagel also is stopping in Chile and Peru where he will attend a conference of defence ministers from the Americas.

Published: Saturday 11th October 2014 by The News Editor

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