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Turkey says training of moderate Syrian rebels begins with US

AFP , Tuesday 26 May 2015
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Turkey and the United States have started training moderate Syrian rebels on Turkish territory to prepare them to fight Islamic State (IS) militants, the Turkish foreign minister said on Tuesday.

The US-led programme to equip and train Syrian rebels on Turkish territory has started "with small groups" after months of delays, Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the official Anatolia news agency.

"We can say that the train-and-equip (mission) has started with small groups. All infrastructure has been completed and the necessary equipment has been supplied," he said.

"Both the Turkish and the American personnel who will carry out the mission have been dispatched," he said, adding that the rebels were being selected jointly by Turkey and the United States.

On Monday Cavusoglu told the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper that Turkey and the US had also agreed to provide some rebels preparing to fight IS with "air protection".

Earlier this month the US started training Syrian rebels in Jordan as part of a programme that would extend to sites in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Ankara and Washington inked a deal in February to train and equip up to 15,000 moderate rebels on Turkish soil. But the plan has been marked by disagreement between Washington and its allies about the objective of the training.

Turkey and other regional governments want to see the rebels confront the Syrian regime, while Washington has said the first priority must be combating the IS jihadists who hold vast swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always insisted that the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad is key to solving the Syrian crisis.

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