First group of FSA soldiers trained by US, Turkey enters Syria

MEHMED CAVID BARKÇIN
ANKARA
Published

The first group of Free Syrian Army (FSA) soldiers, who trained in the central Anatolian Kırşehir province as part of the train-and-equip program, completed their training and crossed into Syria on July 12, Al-Jazeera Turk reported. The convoy of 30 vehicles and 54 men crossed the Turkish border and is currently in the Malikiye region, west of the Azez district in Aleppo and will join opposition forces to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) at the Savran front in northern Aleppo.

The U.S. and Turkey signed an agreement in February to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition forces and after months of delay due to logistical issues the program started in Kırşehir in May. The program was to take place in Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but so far it has taken place in Turkey and Jordan only. A total of 154 men were trained by both Turkey and Jordan under the 30th Division, which was established by the U.S. to specifically fight ISIS. One-hundred men completed the 54-day training in the camp in Jordan and returned to their country 20 days ago. Fifty-four men who completed their 74-day training in Turkey were granted permission to cross into Syria on July 12. The U.S. equipped the men with 30 pick-up trucks, middle range weapons such as DShK, along with M16 assault rifles and a vast quantity of ammunition.

According to the agreement between the U.S. and Turkey, groups of 300 to 2,000 FSA soldiers were planned to be trained, but only 54 have been trained. Pentagon officials recently reported the program is moving slower than expected due to complications in vetting volunteers and transporting them from Syria for training. Moreover, Turkish media outlets recently reported that dozens of moderate opposition fighters have withdrawn from the program after they refused to sign a contract assuring that they would not fight against the Syrian regime. Many Syrian volunteers prefer to use their training to fight both ISIS and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, which was the original aim of the revolution before it got complicated.

The 30th Division, established by nine opposition groups from the FSA, is commanded by Colonel Nedim Hasan, a Turkmen defector from the Syrian army, who is aided by the Syrian Group Captain Sahir Mustafa.

The FSA has long been asking for more assistance in its fight against the Assad regime.

There has been heavy fighting recently in northern Syria and the FSA took some advantages over the government and its allied forces and now controls some parts of Aleppo. Ankara has continuously expressed that a comprehensive strategy that includes safe and no-fly zones in Syria, along with training opposition groups, is essential for a permanent solution to conclude the war in its neighboring country to the south.

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