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Turkey OKs coalition’s use of bases in fight against militants

Ankara will also train Syrian forces

Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press

AREQUIPA, Peru – Turkey will let U.S. and coalition forces use its bases, including a key installation within 100 miles of the Syrian border, for operations against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, American defense officials said Sunday.

But progress in negotiations with Turkey – including Ankara’s agreement to train several thousand Syrian moderate rebels – may not be enough to stop the massacre of civilians in Syria’s border town of Kobani, where intense fighting continues.

The Obama administration had been pressing Ankara to play a larger role against the extremists, who have taken control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq, including territory on Turkey’s border, and sent refugees fleeing into Turkey.

U.S. officials confirmed Saturday that Ankara had agreed to train Syrian moderate forces on Turkish soil. A Turkish government official said Sunday that Turkey put the number at 4,000 opposition fighters and said they would be screened by Turkish intelligence.

Also Sunday, officials confirmed that Turkey agreed to let U.S. and coalition fighter aircraft launch operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria from Turkish bases.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private talks between the Americans and Turks.

As fighting continued in the Kurdish town of Kobani, Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the tenuous situation. Speaking in Cairo, Kerry said the defense of Kobani does not define the international counterterrorism strategy.

Islamic State militants have taken parts of Kobani, Kerry indicated, but not all of it. The United Nations has warned of mass casualties if the border town falls.

“There will be ups and there will be downs over the next days as there are in any kind of conflict,” Kerry said at the conclusion of an international aid conference for the Gaza Strip.

Elaborating on a theme the Obama administration has zeroed in on in recent days, Kerry said the U.S. has been realistic about how quickly it will prevail against the Islamic State militants. Officials have spoken of years of counterterrorism efforts ahead.

Beyond the training and bases, there are other issues the U.S. hopes Turkey will agree to. U.S. officials have not said what all of those would be because discussions are continuing.

Earlier Sunday, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, made clear the U.S. has not asked “the Turks to send ground forces of their own into Syria.”

American officials are “continuing to talk to the Turks about other ways that they can play an important role. They are already essential to trying to prevent the flow of foreign fighters” and prevent extremists from exporting oil through Turkey. “So Turkey has many ways it can contribute,” Rice told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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