The train-and-equip program for moderate Syrian opposition forces is proceeding according to plan in Turkey's Kırşehir province and the U.K. has extended its support to join training opposition fighters together with Turkey and the U.S., said Foreign Minister Ahmet Çavuşoğlu. Commenting on the recent developments of the train-and-equip program, Çavuşoğlu said: "The program has begun in Turkey and Jordan. It will also begin in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where logistical preparations are currently underway." Underlining that the training is being held in Kırşehir only, Çavuşoğlu further indicated that the number of participants has reached several hundred. Çavuşoğlu also said the U.K. has asked to support the program. "In principle, we are open to British support, but we [with the U.K.] have not decided upon the area in which it would give support." The minister reiterated that the program for Syrian opposition forces is not enough on its own. "All kinds of alternatives are possible, including a military operation," he added. In response to the question of whether protection will be provided to those train-and-equip forces via airstrikes, and whether Turkey or the U.S. would carry out such an airstrike, he said Turkey has been wanting to establish a safe zone from the very beginning.
"We want a safe zone from the very beginning due to a number of reasons, but mainly because of the situation with ISIS, which holds control of a large section along our border and this creates a vast risk to those people who are trained under the program. Thus, those individuals who have been trained under the program must enter a safe zone in Syria," he added.
Continuing his statements, Çavuşoğlu stressed that establishing a safe zone is a must and providing air protection to those trained individuals is highly crucial. In his statements, he also said Turkey is holding talks with the U.S. in regards to the Assad regime and the airstrikes that it performs, as the airstrikes by the regime would bombard those who have been trained under the program. "Although there are some differences in opinion, the train-and-equip program has begun and the progress is still continuing," added Minister Çavuşoğlu.
Additionally, Minister Çavuşoğlu emphasized that if the aim is to combat other terrorist organizations as well, then the train-and-equip program is not sufficient and strategies that give results must be established.
In addition to Turkey, the program will be run in Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia with the aim of training 5,000 people in one year, and 15,000 people over three years. Turkey has continuously said that a comprehensive strategy that includes safe and no-fly zones in Syria along with training opposition groups is necessary for a permanent solution to the war in the neighboring country.
Çavuşoğlu said remarks by a U.N. spokesman about arms shipments to warring Syrian forces were not directed at Turkey. He said that several newspaper stories claiming that the U.N. had criticized Turkey regarding arms deliveries to Syria were wrong-headed.
Çavuşoğlu said: "It is not true that the remarks [by U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric] were directed at Turkey as stories published in one or two newspapers said. The spokesman just recalled the U.N.'s resolutions and its position on this issue."
A number of reports in the Turkish media quoted U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric as saying: "The fundamental principle of the secretary-general is definite. The U.N. supports peace-oriented acts for the resolution of the conflict in Syria. The U.N. is against arms shipments to any of the warring sides in Syria."
Çavuşoğlu said: "When international organizations want to make such statements, they either hold a press conference, or they answer a question in a press event, or they release a written statement."
Referring to Dujarric's remarks, Çavuşoğlu said: "He did not say these in a press conference. This was a remark in response to a question asked as he walked in the aisle."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday lodged a criminal complaint against Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper that carried images allegedly showing arms being transported to Syria by the Turkish intelligence service.
"These are attempts to portray Turkey as a country that supports terrorism. But Turkey is a country that always fights terrorism and also now Turkey is the most resolute country that is struggling with terrorist organizations in the region, particularly ISIS," said Çavuşoğlu, adding that Turkey may face a new wave of immigrants if Syria's Aleppo falls.