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Turkey, US to Provide Air Protection   05/25 09:51

   Turkey and the U.S. have agreed in "principle" to provide air protection to 
Syrian rebels being trained and equipped to fight Islamic State militants, once 
they enter Syrian territory for battle, Turkey's foreign minister said.

   ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkey and the U.S. have agreed in "principle" to 
provide air protection to Syrian rebels being trained and equipped to fight 
Islamic State militants, once they enter Syrian territory for battle, Turkey's 
foreign minister said.

   The two countries agreed in February to train and equip up to 15,000 Syrians 
under the $500 million U.S. program designed to add a credible ground force to 
an air bombing campaign against the militant group.

   The program suffered unexplained delays as the U.S. resisted Turkish calls 
for the force to be also prepared to fight the Syrian regime and the sides 
tried to reach agreement on who to train.

   The U.S. has also refused a Turkish proposal for enforcing a safe area and a 
no-fly zone in Syria, prompting questions on how trained rebels would be 
protected when they entered Syria.

   "They have to be supported via air," Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign 
minister told the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper in comments published 
Monday. "If you do not protect them or provide air support, what is the point?"

   Cavusoglu didn't provide further details on the air cover or confirm whether 
the air support would include the use of armed drones taking off from an air 
base in southern Turkey.

   "These are technical details," Cavusoglu told Daily Sabah during a visit to 
Seoul. "There is a principle agreement on providing air support. How it is 
going to be provided is in the responsibility of the army."

   U.S. officials have said the aim is to train 5,000 Syrians a year for three 
years at a base in the central Turkish city of Kirsehir and at sites in Saudi 
Arabia and Qatar.

   While resisting Turkish pressure for the rebels to also target Syrian regime 
forces, U.S. officials have conceded that the recruits will have to defend 
themselves against all sides.

   Cavusoglu said: "While the fight against (the Islamic State group) is 
prioritized, the regime must be also stopped."


(KA)


 
 
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