SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said Saturday the US is making “considerable progress” in its negotiations with Turkey over the plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels in their fight against Islamic State militants.
A senior US official confirmed that Turkey has agreed to train the Syrian moderates inside Turkey. The official was not authorised to discuss the negotiations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hagel said he spoke at length Saturday with the US envoy for the Syria and Iraq mission, retired Gen John Allen. He said that Allen continues to work to get other international partners, including those in the Middle East, involved in the training programme.
Hagel, who is in Santiago for meetings with leaders, also said the US continues to use airstrikes to go after Islamic State militants in the Syrian border town of Kobani. But he said extremists are still threatening the town and are occupying part of the outskirts.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” he said, adding that the US is doing what it can from the air and, “in fact, there has been some progress made in that area.”
He gave a more upbeat assessment of the security situation in Baghdad. He said Iraqi security forces are “in full control” of the capital and that the US continues to add military support to that region.
On Friday, Hagel said the US was hoping Turkey would agree to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels on its own soil. US officials are still discussing details with Turkey. When asked for an update Saturday, Hagel said he is waiting for Turkey to make its own announcement.
The US has been urging Turkey to get more involved in the battle against the Islamic State extremists who have taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria and driven refugees into Turkey.