The Pentagon is considering a Turkish plan to create a training program for Sunni Arabi fighters along the Turkish-Syrian border, The Wall Street Journal reports.
This would be the US’s third, and the Pentagon’s second, Syrian training program.
The Turkish request, which was floated last week at a meeting between US and Turkish military officials in Ankara, is aimed at addressing Turkey’s continued issues with border security.
Foreign governments, and the US in particular, have been placing pressure on Ankara to try to clamp down on its southern border and the ease with which potential extremists can cross.
In December, 16,824 people were caught crossing from Syria into Turkey, according to the WSJ. During the same time frame, an additional 285 people were caught attempting to enter into Syria from Turkey.
The actual number of people crossing the border would certainly be higher and is definitely a cause for concern and it directly plays into the hands of ISIS. The militant group still controls a swathe of territory along the Turkish border, through which it can move supplies and people into and out of Syria.
Ideally, the Turkish request aims to “to create a more diversified regional fighting force, potentially helping to assuage Ankara’s concerns about the territorial ambitions of Kurdish fighters operating in the area,” the WSJ notes.
Currently, Turkey has identified a number of groups that it believes would be effective partners for the potential US-run program. And unlike the previous Pentagon-led training program, which cost $500 million and only trained a handful of rebels before being disbanded, the new program would train only a small subset of fighters from already active groups.
These trained fighters would then return back to their groups and help “enable” the larger force, Marine General Joe Dunford told the WSJ.
Currently, the US is relying heavily on Kurdish forces to help push back ISIS in northern Syria. However, Turkey has raised objections to foreign support to the Kurds, as they are linked to the Kurdish PKK group — a terrorist organisation waging an insurgency in Turkey.
The US also currently maintains about a force of about 50 special operators in northern Syria for training and advising missions.
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