Syrian rebels have been fighting regime forces since the start of the civil war in 2011. AFP photo.
WASHINGTON DC - The United States expects to start training moderate Syrian rebels early this spring in coordination with Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to fight the Islamic State (ISIS), the Pentagon told reporters on Tuesday.
“What I can tell you is that we continue to coordinate and plan joint efforts for training and equipping for moderate Syrian opposition forces with Turkey,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.
“No training has started yet,” he said, adding that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were also on board to provide training facilities.
Meanwhile, Reuters cited the Turkish foreign ministry as saying that Ankara and Washington are close to cutting a deal on the training program. The United States and Turkey have failed to reach a mechanism to aid Syrian rebels because Turkey has demanded the creation of a no-fly zone inside Syria, which Washington has rejected.
“I think that the statement you saw come out of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday is a good sign, a positive sign that things are moving in the right direction with respect to getting this train-and-equip program up -- up and running,” Kirby explained.
According to the Pentagon official, the US has been active in the process of recruiting Syrians, with Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, commander of US special operations forces in the Middle East talking to moderate Syrian forces.
“We're also working very closely with our interagency partners and some foreign partners to identify potential recruits,” Kirby said. “That process is very active right now,” he added, explaining that Nagata and his team are talking to opposition groups to help choose recruits.
Kirby predicted that the training would start in the next several months: “I think, if we continue to make the progress that we're making now, that we believe we could start conducting some training of moderate opposition by early spring.”