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World

Dozens Of ISIS Hostages Freed And Sent To Turkey

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Congress has approved President Obama's plan to train and arm Syrian rebels in the fight against the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State. That plan also includes expanded airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria. The President says the fight also has the support of some 40 other countries.

Germany has said it would help, but within some limits. We'll talk to the German ambassador about what those are in a moment. First, the news from perhaps the most critical partner in the region, Turkey. Turkish authorities today announced the release of 49 hostages who were being held by ISIS. They include Turkish diplomats and their families. NPR Middle East correspondent Deborah Amos joins us from the Turkey-Syrian border. Hi, Deb.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Hi.

RATH: So the Turkish government says that they did not pay ransom for these hostages. What do you know about how they were released?

AMOS: Not only not paid ransom - they said that there was no armed clash, that it appears to be a negotiation. In fact, on the social media of ISIS, they claim credit for releasing the hostages. They said it was because of Turkey's position within the U.S. coalition against ISIS, which is - the Turks have not signed on. This is a big deal here. It has been on live television all day - on Turkish television as the hostages got off the plane in Ankara and met their families for the first time.

RATH: Turkey has been so far reluctant to join the coalition of countries putting up military forces to fight the Islamic State. Part of that, apparently, was because they feared for the hostages. So does the return of the hostages change the calculus for Turkey?

AMOS: There's been a lot of talk from Turkish commentators today asking just that question. And I don't think we know yet. The Turks have said that they will not allow Incirlik Air Base here to be used for any military purposes. It seems unlikely they will change that position.

They have a little bit more room now to think about what role they're going to take in the coalition. But we'll have to see. Now this all comes as U.S. officials are reported to be lobbying allies to join them in airstrikes, in particular in Syria. So far, no one has signed on. The French have carried out their first airstrikes in Iraq, but they have said explicitly no to Syria. So we'll see where Turkey is headed.

RATH: Deb, Congress has approved the President's plan to arm and train Syrian rebels. What effects do you expect that to have on the ground?

AMOS: In the short term, it will be a matter of managing expectations. Everybody here reads the same news that we do and they know that that vote has happened. So on the one hand, certainly rebels in Syria are ecstatic that the vote happened. On the other hand, they want it to happen tomorrow. They want this switch between a covert CIA arming program, which has now vetted some 18 groups here. And they are getting limited amounts of weapons. They want it to ramp up quickly. They are fighting ISIS. And they expect this to go fast. I think U.S. officials have been very clear to say slow down. It's not going to happen that fast.

RATH: NPR Middle East correspondent Deborah Amos. Deb, thank you.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.