Civilians starting to return to liberated lands in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region, says Recep Tayyip Erdogan
By Selma Kasap
Turkish and Free Syrian Army forces have so far liberated 950 square kilometers (590 square miles) during the Turkish-led counter-terrorist operation in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region, Turkey’s president said on Sunday.
“To date 950 square kilometers have been taken under our control,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the 6th provincial congress of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in the Black Sea province of Bolu.
Erdogan said that the ongoing operation is not to “occupy” the region but to liberate it from YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists, and then hand it over to the people living there.
“In the Afrin region, the owners of the [liberated]lands have started to come back,” he said.
Erdogan added that a total of 3,300 YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists have been “neutralized” in Afrin since the start of Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria.
Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.
Erdogan said that Turkey shares a 911-kilometer (566-mile) border with Syria, adding that it has been harassed by both terrorist groups and the Syrian regime.
“With these things happening in Syria, when will you, NATO, take our side?” he said.
In mid-February, Turkey marked 66 years of NATO membership.
Under NATO charter, an attack on one of the alliance’s members is an attack on them all.
Turkey says that it is also defending NATO’s southern borders through Operation Olive Branch, but the alliance has failed to support it.
Speaking at the 6th provincial congress of AK Party in western Sakarya province, Erdogan reiterated Turkey did not wish to invade Afrin.
“We are chasing the terrorists who are disturbing our country,” he said.
He added that PKK terrorists in Iraq’s Qandil mountain had given weapons to 14- or 15-year-old children and were teaching them how to kill people.
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria.
Since the beginning of the operation, Turkish and Free Syrian Army forces have liberated 176 locations, including five town centers, 140 villages, and 31 strategic areas.
According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as protect Syrians from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria’s territorial integrity, it said.
The military also said only terror targets are being destroyed and “utmost care” is being taken to not harm civilians.
*Hanife Sevinc contributed to this report from Istanbul