The U.S. government will likely go along with the Turkish demands and redesign the train-and-equip program for Syrian Arab groups fighting against DAESH, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday.
The new program will focus on recruiting the leaders or key individuals of opposition groups who are already fighting DAESH, instead of creating entirely new infantry units from scratch and reintroducing them to the battlefield. Carter said those groups that are keen to retake territory from DAESH can benefit from U.S. equipment, training and a connection to American air forces, intelligence and logistics capabilities. "A better model, which I think will be more effective."
Turkey demanded the inclusion of moderate Syrian Arab groups into this re-modeled train-and-equip program, to repel the remaining DAESH-controlled elements along the Turkish border, according to U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who met Turkish officials in Ankara in the beginning of January. He told a group of journalists that Turks have identified some groups to receive training and U.S. will look into these groups, but he refused to give more details at this time. Dunford said they were expecting to use these groups as a "connective tissue to larger elements in Syria," following their training in Turkey.
Secretary Carter en route to Paris told journalists that U.S. would implement the program "in a very transactional manner." This means America would seek to know these groups better and see if they can do more. "Our experience with this kind of thing is that these groups grow in size as they grow in confidence and capability, and that is actually what we'd like to see, particularly as we march towards Raqqa through forces like that in Syria."
Asked by journalists whether the White House and the Pentagon were looking at the Turkish request favorably, he said they do consider the request positively since he believes it will be a more effective approach.
Turkey recently increased its efforts to help Syrian rebel groups fight against DAESH by providing artillery cover and cleaning DAESH-planted mines along the border. Turkey also deployed an additional 25,000 soldiers along the most critical parts of the border, along with building berms and fences to prevent infiltrations.
General Dunford has previously said that as soon as he has the plan to move forward, he would present it for President Obama's approval.
American officials last week told journalists that counter-DAESH cooperation with Turkey will top the agenda for Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Istanbul this weekend.