The programme, due to begin in late March, is aiming to train 5,000 fighters each year with a total of 15,000 in the three-year period, according to the same official.

Turkey said Monday an agreement to train and equip thousands of moderate Syrian opposition fighters would be concluded later in January after several months of talks with the United States.

The programme is a key pillar of Turkish policy on Syria which aims to simultaneously pressure not only Islamist militants but also the Damascus regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

“A memorandum of understanding is expected to be signed this month. It cannot be delayed any longer,” a Turkish foreign ministry official said, asking not to be named.

The programme, due to begin in late March, is aiming to train 5,000 fighters each year with a total of 15,000 in the three-year period, according to the same official.

A US official however did not confirm any deal.

“Discussions are ongoing, but we are not yet in a position to say when we might reach an agreement,” the US official told AFP.

Turkey and the United States have been negotiating for months how to respond to the crisis in Syria, and the train and equip programme is seen as a way for the two sides to find common ground.

Turkey’s reluctance to take robust action against ISIS militants who have seized control of swathes of Iraq and Syria right up to the Turkish border has strained ties with its Nato ally.

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