The US military has started training Syrian opposition fighters in Turkey to combat ISIS, an expected expansion of a program that first launched in Jordan weeks ago, a US official said on Thursday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not offer details on the size of the first group of recruits undergoing training in Turkey or the specific start date.
While the Pentagon has declined to comment, President Barack Obama's administration has said the program aims only to target ISIS forces, not troops loyal to government of Bashar al-Assad. But critics, including in the US Congress, say that theoretical limitation is unlikely to withstand the realities of Syria's civil war.
On May 25, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that Turkey and the US had officially started a joint program for training and equipping Syrian opposition fighters.
“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. Both the Turkish and the American personnel who will carry out the mission have been dispatched,” said Cavusoglu.
The long-awaited program is aimed at training nearly 5,000 Syrians a year for three years under the US programme which has funding of $500 million in the central Turkish city of Kirsehir and at sites in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.