A Turkish soldier sits on top of a tank, with the Syrian town of Kobani in the background..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON - Turkey has agreed to support the training and equipping of moderate opposition groups in Syria, the US State Department said on Friday, saying a US military planning team would visit Ankara next week to further talks on the matter.
"Turkey has agreed to support train-and-equip efforts for the moderate Syrian opposition," spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in describing talks on Thursday between US and Turkish officials in Ankara.
"There will be a (US Defense Department) planning team traveling to Ankara next week to continue planning that through military channels," she added.
Retired US General John Allen and deputy envoy Brett McGurk, who are responsible for building a coalition to fight Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, traveled to Turkey to press officials to play a bigger role in the fight.
The issue boiled to a head this week after Islamic State fighters closed in on the Syrian border town of Kobani. By Friday more than a third of Kobani had been occupied and the UN warned that thousands of people "will most likely be massacred" if Kobani falls.
Harf said the indications were that the number of civilians in and around Kobani "remains low" with most having fled into Turkey over the last three weeks.
"We know there's a very dire situation there, but we think the number remains low," Harf said. "It's difficult to ascertain."
Ankara resents suggestions from Washington that it is not pulling its weight and wants broader joint actions that also target the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Harf said Turkey could be helpful "in a number of ways not just direct military action." While declining to give details, she said discussions have included whether Turkey could commit ground troops to the fight.