Turkey to Train 4,000 Moderate Syrian Rebels

Turkey will let coalition forces use its bases for operations against ISIS, and will also train moderate Syrian rebels after screening them.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Syrian rebels take aim near Damascus
Syrian rebels take aim near Damascus

Turkey will let U.S. and coalition forces use its bases, including a key installation within 100 miles of the Syrian border, for operations against the “Islamic State” (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, American defense officials said Sunday, according to The Associated Press (AP).

The Obama administration had been pressing Ankara to play a larger role against the extremists, who have taken control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq, including territory on Turkey's border, and sent refugees fleeing into Turkey.

U.S. officials confirmed Saturday that Ankara had agreed to train Syrian moderate forces on Turkish soil. A Turkish government official said Sunday that Turkey put the number at 4,000 opposition fighters and added they would be screened by Turkish intelligence, reported AP.

Also Sunday, officials confirmed that Turkey agreed to let U.S. and coalition fighter aircraft launch operations against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria from Turkish bases, including Incirlik Air Base in the south.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has been traveling in South America, has said the U.S. wanted access to the Turkish bases.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private talks between the Americans and Turks, noted AP.

Earlier Sunday, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, made clear the U.S. has not asked "the Turks to send ground forces of their own into Syria."

American officials are "continuing to talk to the Turks about other ways that they can play an important role. They are already essential to trying to prevent the flow of foreign fighters" and prevent extremists from exporting oil through Turkey. "So Turkey has many ways it can contribute," Rice was quoted as having told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Hagel spoke by telephone Sunday with Turkey's defense minister, Ismet Yilmaz, and thanked him for his country's willingness to assist in the fight.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said, according to AP, that Hagel "noted Turkey's expertise in this area and the responsible manner in which Turkey is handling the other challenges this struggle has placed upon the country, in terms of refugees and border security."

While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country cannot stay out of the international coalition fighting ISIS, Turkey has not yet joined the coalition. The country’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has said the campaign in Syria should aim to remove Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Sunday’s announcement as ISIS continues to advance on Kobane, a key Syrian Kurdish border town.

Turkey has been called upon to take action and prevent ISIS from taking over the Kurdish town, but Turkey’s Foreign Minister on Sunday ruled out Turkish intervention in this.