Turkey trains Kurdish peshmerga forces in fight against Islamic State

Turkey trains Kurdish peshmerga forces in fight against Islamic State
Militant Islamist fighters waving flags, travel in vehicles as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014.

ISTANBUL - Turkish soldiers are training Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq and will give similar assistance to a new national army unit in Baghdad as part of the struggle against Islamic State, a senior Turkish official said on Saturday.

The announcement came as US Vice President Joe Biden held meetings in Istanbul with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on how to tackle Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

The meetings yielded no major shifts in strategy on either side, but Biden said he and Erdogan had discussed a transition of power in Syria away from President Bashar al-Assad - one of Turkey's key demands - during a four-hour meeting.

"On Syria we discussed... not only to deny (IS) a safe haven and roll back and defeat them, but also strengthen the Syrian opposition and ensure a transition away from the Assad regime," Biden said at a joint press conference with Erdogan.

Turkey, a NATO member with a 1,200 km border with Syria and Iraq, has refused to take a frontline military role in the US-led coalition against the Islamic State insurgents, arguing air strikes alone will not bring lasting stability.

It has drawn criticism for letting thousands of foreign fighters cross its borders in its haste to see Assad toppled.

Ankara argues there can be no peace with Assad in power and that Syria needs to follow the lead of Iraq, where a new government under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is seeking to build a cohesive force to push back Islamic State fighters.

Turkish soldiers began special forces training with Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq three weeks ago, peshmerga spokesman Brigadier General Halgurd Hikmat said. The Turkish official said similar assistance would be given to Iraq's National Guard.

"Turkey has already started training peshmerga forces in northern Iraq ... and we have agreed to train and give assistance to the National Guard," the official said.

Abadi announced plans in September for a new National Guard unit intended to incorporate local fighters and deprive Islamic State of safe havens by allowing Iraq's provinces to be responsible for their own security.

Biden said he had also discussed Turkey's agreement to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels fighting both Islamic State and Assad's forces, although he did not give further details on numbers or where the training would take place.

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