The train-and-equip program for moderate Syrian opposition forces will begin on May 9, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told Daily Sabah. On Feb. 19, Turkey and the U.S. inked a deal 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. However, due to the transportation of weaponry and forming fighting units taking time, the program will start three months after the signing of the agreement. "There isn't any political or other issue. At first, 300 people will be trained, followed by the next 300 and, at the end of the year, the number of trained and equipped fighters will reach 2,000," Çavuşoğlu said. He further added that the U.S. and Turkey share the view of a Syria without President Bashar Assad.
"But for now, the fight against ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham] is a priority for the U.S.," Çavuşoğlu said, adding that the trained and equipped Syrian opposition groups will fight both the Assad regime and ISIS.
Turkey had already trained and equipped 1,600 peshmerga fighters from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq. He added that since the formation of a new government in Iraq, relations have strengthened with Baghdad.
About 2,200 individuals have been identified to be vetted for the train-equip program to help Syrian opposition fighters, the U.S. said in March. "We've begun the pre-screening process of compiling biographical data on more than 400 of these potential recruits," Pentagon Spokeswoman Elissa Smith said. The Pentagon said in February that it had identified 1,200 opposition fighters to be vetted. Commander of the American Special Operations Forces in the Middle East, Major General Michael Nagata, and his team, have been working to select and screen members of moderate Syrian opposition groups for the program.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey agreed to help opposition groups not only fight ISIS, but also battle the forces loyal to the regime. The agreement with Saudi Arabia and Qatar is still being worked out, but the U.S. and Turkey already signed a deal in February to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition forces.
Çavuşoğlu had said in February: "The aim of the program is to ensure a political transition and strengthen the opposition in their fight against threats such as extremism, terrorism and all elements that pose a threat to the opposition, including from the [Syrian] regime."
In line with the agreement, the Syrian opposition forces will be trained in the central Anatolian province of Kırıkkale, National Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said in early March.
The Free Syrian Army has long been asking for more assistance in its fight against the Assad regime. There has been heavy fighting recently in northern Syria. The FSA still control parts of Aleppo, though government and its allied forces have been closing in. Turkey has continuously expressed that a comprehensive strategy that includes safe and no-fly zones in Syria along with training opposition groups, is necessary for a permanent solution in the war in the neighboring country.
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