The United States and Turkey signed a pact Thursday, Feb. 19 to train and arm Syrian rebels to take on Islamic State group militants, according to The Associated Press.
The New York Post reported that the two countries have been in talks for a few months about such a deal. According to The New York Times, the deal was signed by John Bass, U.S. ambassador to Turkey, and Turkish Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu.
The agreement was called an “important step” in the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey.
The New York Post said the Turkish government indicated training could begin as early as next month. The training will take place at a base located in the central Anatolian city of Kirsehir. Hundreds of Syrian fighters could be involved and trained in the next year.
While the U.S. hopes to attack the Islamic State group, Turkish officials have hinted at potentially using the rebels to go after the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Over the next three years, the U.S. plans to send 400 more troops to train 15,000 Syrian rebels, according to the BBC.
With Turkey sharing a 750-mile border with Syria, cooperating and working with the Turkish government is an important aspect of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group.
The deal marks a landmark step for the U.S. and its fight against the Islamic State group.
According to The New York Times, negotiations between the U.S. and Turkey have been fraught with disagreements and dissent in regards to how to handle the Islamic State.
The BBC reports that Turkey and the U.S. have not seen eye to eye on the issue due in part to Turkey’s desire to target the Syrian government of al-Assad instead of focusing on the “sideshow” of the Islamic State.
According to The New York Times, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said in a press conference that the rebels will be used to fight the Syrian regime.
Turkey has already been training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Northern Iraq. These forces have been focused on fighting the Islamic State militants.
The training of Syrian rebels marks a vital step in President Obama’s fight against the Islamic State group.
According to the BBC, the training of Syrian rebels will allow ground forces to focus on the Islamic State while Western and Arab countries continue bombing them from the air.
The New York Times reported that it is unclear which Syrian groups will receive the training, as the U.S. and Turkey have not always agreed on which disparate rebel groups are moderate enough.
The U.S. has reportedly screened approximately 1,200 rebels to participate in training, according to the New York Times.
The U.S. Congress also passed legislation authorizing the training and providing $500 million for the training.
According to the BBC, this deal marks the expansion of the CIA-lead training of Syrian rebels, something that the U.S. started covertly in March 2013 in Jordan.
Editor’s Note: Information from The Associated Press, The New York Times, The New York Post and the BBC was used in this report.