By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security
A representative for the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey stated Feb. 19 that the U.S. and Turkey had finally come to terms on training and arming Syrian rebels after months of discussion.
U.S Ambassador John Bass and Turkish Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu inked the agreement, but many details of the deal remain classified. Public disclosures on the agreement so far indicate that training could begin as early as next month at a Turkish military facility in Kirsehir and is likely to involve several hundred Syrian fighters. This is in addition to the thousands of Kurdish forces trained to date. Sinirlioglu stated, via the Anadolu news agency that the deal is “an important step” in the partnership between Turkey and the U.S. Indeed, part of the holdup in coming to terms between the two nations was a disagreement over exactly who the forces would engage.
Washington has focused on targeting the Islamic State, and while Turkey has no problem with that, they would also like these rebels to target forces of Syria’s Assad regime. It is possible that the U.S. conceded this demand as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated Feb. 17 that the rebels would target regime forces.
Another important development is the news that Kurdish Peshmerga forces are pushing out from the northern Kurdish/Syrian city of Kobani and attacking Islamic State forces in Raqqa. With a strong presence of IS fighters in Raqqa and a renewed offensive around Aleppo by Syrian forces to the west, the breakout of Kurdish fighters is important. However, there is a problem of territorial control.
Once the Peshmerga pushes south, they will likely need a backing force to ensure that their recent gains in the north don’t come under renewed attack. With new fighters training in Turkey – including both Kurdish and Syrian rebels – there is a good chance that these newly trained combatants will bolster forces already fighting in the north.
Coalition airstrikes have proven useful when used in conjunction with well-trained ground forces, and increasing the capabilities of those on the ground makes good tactical sense. Challenges remain despite the recent positive developments.