Antony Blinken, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, has said Turkey is a critical partner in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the U.S. has very close cooperation with Turkey. Speaking at a press briefing with European journalists via teleconference on Friday Blinken said the U.S. has more than 70 partners in the global coalition to counter ISIS. Underlining Turkey's role in the effort, Blinken said the two countries have strong collaboration: "Collaboration is already strong and we are in very close contact, virtually every day, to look at how we can continue to deepen it."
Regarding the train-and-equip program, Blinken underlined that the training phase is critical: "It's a critical step in the train-and-equip mission, and it's designed to build the capability of the appropriately vetted Syrian fighters so that they can defend the Syrian people from attacks by [ISIS], secure territory controlled by the Syrian opposition, protect the United States, our friends and allies and the Syrian people from threats posed by terrorists in Syria and promote the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Syria."
Turkey and the U.S. inked a deal on February 19 to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition forces with the aim of achieving a political transformation in war-torn Syria on the basis of the Geneva Communique. In line with the agreement, Syrian opposition forces will be trained in the central Anatolian province of Kırıkkale, National Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said in early March. However, due to the transportation of weaponry and the formation of fighting units taking time, the program will start three months after the agreement was signed.