Turkey’s cross-border operation into northern Syria has so far neutralized 109 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists since it was launched on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.
Ankara launched on Wednesday the operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to secure its borders by eliminating terror elements, and to ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees and Syria’s territorial integrity.
Turkish troops along with the Syrian National Army began the military operation at 4 p.m. local time (1300GMT) against the Daesh and PKK terror group and its Syrian offshoot PYD-YPG.
Speaking to members of his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s parliamentarian bloc in Ankara, Erdogan defended Turkey’s operation into Syria on Thursday, saying the military operation would support Syria’s territorial integrity by confronting terrorist control of the country’s northeast.
“They are not honest, they just make up words,” Erdogan said of Turkey’s critics, singling out Saudi Arabia and Egypt. “We, however, create action and that is our difference.”
Erdogan also said Daesh prisoners who need to be kept captive will be held in prison and those accepted by their own countries will be returned home.
Turkish military hits 181 terror targets in northern Syria
Turkish airstrikes and howitzers hit 181 terror targets as part of Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria, according to Turkish Defense Ministry in a statement on Thursday.
Earlier, the defense ministry asserted that the Turkish military targets only terrorists, their shelters, positions, weapons, tools and equipment, while attention and sensitivity are shown to prevent the damages to civilians and historical, cultural, religious structures, infrastructure facilities and elements of friendly and allied countries.
Turkey has said the terrorist group PKK and its extension the YPG/PYD constitute the biggest threat to Syria’s future, jeopardizing the country’s territorial integrity and unitary structure. It has also stressed that supporting terrorists under the pretext of fighting Daesh is unacceptable.
Turkey has a 911-kilometer (566-mile) border with Syria and it has long decried the threat from terrorists east of the Euphrates and the formation of a “terrorist corridor” there.
Turkey plans to resettle 2 million Syrians in a 30-km-wide (19-mi) safe zone to be set up in Syria, stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, including Manbij.
However, the presence of terror groups such as the PKK, PYD, and YPG risk its formation.
Turkey has rid an area of 4,000 square km (1,544 square miles) in Syria of terrorist groups in two separate cross-border operations. Since 2016, Turkey has conducted two major military operations in northwestern Syria — Operation Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch — to purge the region of the terrorist groups Daesh and the YPG, which is the Syrian branch of the terrorist group PKK.
The two operations were in line with the country’s right to self-defense borne out of international law, UN Security Council resolutions, especially no. 1624 (2005), 2170 (2014) and 2178 (2014), and under the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, while being respectful of Syria’s territorial integrity.
During Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkish forces neutralized 3,060 Daesh terrorists. Turkey has suffered greatly from Daesh attacks inside the country. More than 300 people have been killed in attacks claimed by Daesh in Turkey, where the terrorist group has targeted civilians in suicide bombings and armed attacks in recent years.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU — has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.
Trump: Erdogan prevented scattering of Syrian refugees
U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that millions of Syrian refugees would be scattered around the world if Turkey were not hosting them.
Speaking at a press conference at the White House, Trump said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to repatriate the refugees.
“Right now, he’s holding, in all fairness to him, he’s holding millions of people that would be all over the place if he wasn’t holding them,” said Trump. “So he wants to repatriate, he wants to have them go back into the area that he’s looking at.”
Turkey currently hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. Ankara has so far spent $40 billion for the refugees, according to official figures.
Earlier in the day, Erdogan announced the launch of Operation Peace Spring east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to secure its borders by eliminating terror elements and to ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees and Syria’s territorial integrity.
“If you listen to Erdogan, he wants to have people go back to where they came from. Go back to Syria,” said Trump. “But we’ll see. We’ll see how he does it.”
The operation came after Trump announced the pullback of U.S. troops in northern Syria, saying Washington would not be engaged in the campaign and “will no longer be in the immediate area.”
Ankara has said the PKK terrorist group and its extension the YPG/PYD constitute the biggest threat to Syria’s future, jeopardizing the country’s territorial integrity and unitary structure.
Turkish political parties back Operation Peace Spring
Turkish political parties expressed their support on Wednesday for the newly-launched Operation Peace Spring in areas controlled by the YPG/PKK terrorist group east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria.
Turkey will both establish a safe zone in northern Syria as well as peace, tranquility and stability in the region with Operation Peace Spring which is strictly in line with international law and legitimacy standards, said MHP leader Devlet Bahceli Wednesday in a written statement.
Bahceli underlined that Turkey launched the operation to neutralize treacherous and separatist organizations that seriously threaten Turkey’s survival and national existence.
“May Allah bless and bestow triumph upon our children,” said main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Twitter.
Kilicdaroglu expressed hope that Turkish soldiers successfully complete Operation Peace Spring without injury.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the leader of the Grand Unity Party (BBP) wished victory for the Turkish soldiers in the operation.
“The aim of this operation is to ensure our border security, and eliminate the terror threat coming from Syria,” said Mustafa Destici.
The operation also aims to contribute to regional peace, he said.
“Our proposed solution in the region is for Daesh militants to be sent to whichever country they are a citizen of. They are currently in the hands of the U.S.,” he said.
“I hope our soldiers return home safely and peace prevails in our region as soon as possible,” said opposition Saadet (Felicity) Party leader Temel Karamollaoglu on Twitter.
Karamollaoglu also wished success to the Turkish army, and insight and tenacity to Turkey.