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Rebel commander says Americans on the ground in Syria calling in airstrikes

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, first, the Pentagon has denied reports that al-Qaida linked fighters have abducted several U.S.-trained Syrian rebels outside of Aleppo, Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that the men were taken by members of the al-Nusra Front.

    In May, the U.S. military launched a program to train up to 5,000 so-called moderate rebels per year. So far, they're nowhere near that number.

    Special correspondent Jane Ferguson caught up with one of the few fighters who has been trained by the U.S. in Southern Turkey.

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    In the world outside Syria, Mohammed seems nervous. He has good reason. As a Free Syrian Army commander, he and his men are waiting to see if foreign intervention will change the direction of the war. He says he has already been trained by Americans.

  • MOHAMMED, Free Syrian Army Commander (through interpreter):

    In the beginning, they asked for our three names, our first name, our surname, and father's name. We gave our names and pictures. There were about 100 of us. They took us to the camp. They trained us for 50 days in working with guns. The training was very good. They taught us how to use some of the weapons we weren't familiar with, advanced weaponry, like rockets.

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    Mohammed says he has seen and spoken with Americans inside Syria who were coordinating airstrikes.

  • MOHAMMED (through interpreter):

    They were telling us, these are the lines which you shouldn't cross, or the airstrikes will hit you.

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    Now a new deal between Turkey and the U.S. could push the Islamic State away from Turkey's border. American airstrikes against ISIS will now be launched from Turkish soil, the idea being, if ISIS pulls back, fighters like Mohammed could then move in.

    He was injured in battle and treated in hospital in Turkey, but is eager to get back to the fight.

  • MOHAMMED (through interpreter):

    I will return to my country and I will fight there, even if I am to be killed there.

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    Refugees living in Turkey could technically move back to the ISIS-free area too. Ali left Aleppo two years ago and now runs a restaurant in Turkey. He would move back to a safe area in Syria if he could.

    ALI, Syrian Refugee in Turkey (through interpreter): Of course, of course. This is how every Syrian feels. Our homeland is very precious to us. The minute the war ends, even if all of Turkey belonged to me, I would go back to Syria.

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    But not everyone is confident of a return. Some refugees worry about who would replace ISIS if they leave. Just two weeks ago, Nour and her family crossed over to Turkey, fleeing ISIS-held territory. She says simply clearing an area of ISIS wouldn't be enough to convince her to go back, unless her safety is guaranteed.

    NOUR, Syrian Refugee in Turkey (through interpreter): Even apart from ISIS, there are many groups who do bad things. I'm afraid of all those groups. Many people have been killed by them.

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    There are also no guarantees people in ISIS-free areas would be safe from Syrian government warplanes.

  • NOUR (through interpreter):

    Even if ISIS are pushed out, we still wouldn't return until the Assad regime is finished, because the Syrian regime bombs us with airstrikes. They kill many of us. We know many who died this way.

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    It's not yet clear what kind of troops would hold the ground in any buffer zone or area that ISIS has been cleared from. Turkey has already said it would not send in ground troops, and it's unlikely to allow Kurdish rebels to take that territory. With few options left, those who do end up replacing ISIS could be extremist Islamist fighters.

    The deal between Turkey and the U.S. to step up airstrikes against ISIS over the border is being heralded as the best hope yet to take territory from the group. Holding on to that land afterwards could be an even greater challenge.

    Jane Ferguson, PBS NewsHour, Eastern Turkey.

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