US begins training militants in Turkey for Syria

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ANKARA: The US military has started training foreign-backed militants fighting in Syria in neighboring Turkey, an American official said on Thursday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed the information on Thursday, but he declined to provide details on the size of the first group of militants receiving training in Turkey, according to media reports.

The Pentagon, however, declined to comment on the undertaking, which is part of a US plan to train and equip more than 5,000 militants a year for Syria, where a foreign-sponsored militancy has left more than 220,000 people dead and a third of the population homeless.

Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since March 2011. The United States and its regional allies – especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey – are supporting the militants operating inside the country.

The United States claims the so-called train-and-equip program aims only to target ISIS rebels, but critics say the project actually seeks to create more chaos in Syria and weaken the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu (right) and US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass (left) signed a deal to train and equip militants fighting in Syria on February 19 in Ankara. 

The US plans to finish the training of 3,000 militants in Syria by the end of 2015 and an additional 5,000 by next April, according to the Pentagon.

ISIS rebels, who were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government, now control large parts of Syria and Iraq.

On February 19, Washington and Ankara inked an agreement to train and arm “moderate” militants in Syria.

Ankara said the militants will fight both the Syrian government and ISIS.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said in February that Ankara hoped the training deal would strengthen the beleaguered militants fighting against the Assad government.

Newly declassified US intelligence documents reveal that the United States and some of its allies, including Turkey, had foreseen and facilitated the rise of the ISIS group in Syria as a counterweight to President Assad.

The conservative government watchdog group, Judicial Watch, has obtained more than 100 pages of classified documents from the US Department of Defense and State Department through a federal lawsuit.

According to one of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) documents, the West, Persian Gulf countries and Turkey explored “the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria” to affect their policies in the region.

“And this is exactly what the supporting powers to the (Syrian) opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime,” said the DIA report, formerly classified “SECRET//NOFORN” and dated August 12, 2012.

The document was circulated widely among various US government agencies, including the US Central Command, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), State Department, and many others.

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