Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says there is a principal agreement between his country and the United States over providing air protection for the militants operating inside Syria.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with English-language newspaper Daily Sabah on Monday, Cavusoglu said the militants currently being trained and equipped in the central Turkish city of Kirsehir under a joint Ankara-Washington program will receive air cover in Syria.
“They have to be supported via air. If you do not protect them or provide air support, what is the point?” he commented.
The top Turkish diplomat stopped short of answering a question about the possible use of combat drones from Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey for the sake of air cover for Syria militants.
“These are technical details. There is a principle agreement on providing air support. How it is going to be provided is in the responsibility of the [Turkish] army,” Cavusoglu said.
Following several months of negotiations, Turkey and the United States struck an agreement in February to train and arm what the two sides describe as “moderate” militants in Syria.
The program is aimed at training over 15,000 militants in three years. Over 120 US soldiers are reportedly in Turkey to train the militants.
Militants from the “First Battalion” under the so-called Free Syrian Army take part in a military training in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on May 4, 2015. (© AFP)
The Turkish daily Yeni Safak, citing Cavusoglu, reported earlier this month that a group of 300 militants will go through the first phase of the training program.
Cavusoglu added that a total of 2,000 militants will be trained by the end of the current year.
Turkey was one of the three countries that publicly expressed readiness to allow its territory to be used for the training of the anti-Damascus militants.
“Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also announced that they will be hosting a train-and-equip program,” the Turkish foreign minister said on February 20.
The United States and its regional allies – especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey – are supporting the militants operating inside Syria.
Anti-Damascus militant groups also use the Turkish territory to infiltrate into Syria, according to reports.
Syria has been in the grips of a deadly crisis since March 2011. The violence fueled by Takfiri groups has so far claimed the lives of over 222,000 people, according to the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.