Turkey attaches utmost importance to the developments in Syria, with which Turkey has a 911-kilometer-long border. Our national security is closely linked to peace and stability in Syria. On the other hand, we spare no effort to end the humanitarian tragedy in Syria in accordance with the legitimate demands of Syrian people. We are thankful for the generous humanitarian and other forms of aid given by Kuwait to the Syrian people who took shelter in Turkey. They are instrumental to alleviate the sufferings of Syrian people.
On October 9, Turkey launched “Operation Peace Spring” east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to secure its borders by eliminating terrorist elements. I want to share with our friends in Kuwait some insight about the background and the framework of this operation.
Turkey’s ongoing fight against terrorism
Turkey is firmly committed to fighting against terrorism originating from Syria. We have a proven track record in contributing to counter-terrorism efforts in Syria. 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.
We are a committed member of the Global Coalition against DAESH. Turkey is the only country to put up a chest-to-chest combat against DAESH with boots on the ground. We have neutralized more than 4.000 DAESH terrorists on our own.
Turkey has already conducted two major counter-terrorism operations (Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch) in northwest Syria. 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.
Turkey has rid an area of 4,000 square kilometers in Syria of terrorist groups in these two separate cross-border operations. During Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkish forces neutralized 3,060 DAESH terrorists. The threat of terrorism originating from Syria and targeting our borders is not limited to DAESH. In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK-listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, and NATO-has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.
During the last two years, especially from the east of River Euphrates, we have been exposed to more than hundred cases of attacks or hostile acts by PYD/YPG, the Syrian offshoot of PKK. PYD/YPG has perpetrated terrorist attacks also within Syria and against Syrians. Northwest Syria is a particular case in point. More than 200 cases of attacks and killing or wounding of scores of civilians took place. PYD/YPG-affiliated elements assumed responsibility in these cases without hesitation.
Our expectations and sensitivities regarding the PYD/YPG threat were repeatedly shared with our Allies, especially the US. Our talks with the US on the establishment of a safe zone has remained inconclusive. Promises made by the US have not been fulfilled. PYD/YPG fortifications were not destroyed. PYD/YPG even built new ones. They did not withdraw. Their heavy weapons were not taken back. We could no longer tolerate the presence of terrorists at our borders. We were compelled to take our destiny into our hands. That is why we launched “Operation Peace Spring”.
What does Turkey want to achieve and how?
The main objectives of this operation will be to ensure Turkey’s border security, neutralize terrorists in the region and save Syrians from the oppression and cruelty of these terrorists. The operation will be carried out on the basis of international law, in accordance with the right of self-defense as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter and the relevant Security Council resolutions.
As was the case with Operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, only terrorist elements and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles and equipment will be targeted during the planning and execution phases of the operation. The US and other allies who have a military presence in the region were informed of the operation in a timely manner. Channels of military deconfliction will remain open and functional.
We took immediate steps to inform the international community on the background, legal basis and goals of this operation. President Erdogan had already informed President Trump about our intention. President Erdogan also called President Putin before the start of the operation. We notified UN Secretary General, President of the UN Security Council and NATO Secretary General of the start of this operation.
We invited ambassadors representing permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as regional countries to the ministry. We delivered a verbal note to the Syrian Consulate General in Istanbul. We made clear that this was limited to a counter-terrorism operation. We reiterated our commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity and unity. We intend to continue the operation until all terrorists have been wiped out of the region, our border security has been ensured, and local Syrians have been liberated from the tyranny of PYD/YPG as well as the DEASH threat.
Not against but for Syria and Syrians
The Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian Interim Government as well as tribal leaders have expressed support for the operation.
The operation also aims to facilitate safe and voluntary returns of displaced Syrians. A safe zone free from terror will encourage these Syrians, including more than 300,000 Syrian Kurds taking refuge in Turkey, to voluntarily return to their homes. Turkey plans to resettle 2 million Syrians in a 30-kilometer wide safe zone to be set up in Syria, stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, including Manbij. But the presence of terror groups such as the PKK, PYD, and YPG risk its formation.
In fact, Turkey has best practices in terms of liberating areas from terrorism and facilitating safe and voluntary returns of Syrians. In northwest Syria, more than 360 thousand Syrians returned from Turkey to their homes in areas cleared of terrorists by Operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch.
Turkey has no plans whatsoever to modify the demographic structure in the operation area. It is the other way around. Our operation will give a chance to at least one million displaced Syrians, including Kurds, Arabs and Christians alike, to return to their ancestors’ lands after having been subject to ethnic cleansing by PYD/YPG. Turkey’s counter-terrorism efforts in Syria will contribute to the territorial integrity and unity of Syria by disrupting separatist agendas.
International solidarity needed to combat with terrorism
The future of detained DEASH terrorists is of paramount importance for Turkey. The only sustainable solution is repatriation of all foreign terrorist fighters by their countries of origin. The issue of foreign terrorist fighters can be effectively dealt with only by collective action by the international community. Protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure is our top priority.
Turkey has always been at the forefront of the efforts to combat DAESH. We will remain so. This vision is recognized and supported by the Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian Interim Government, as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, along with the tribal representatives, Kurdish and Christian leaders across the region.
As President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says, our plan is that everyone can return home. Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Assyrians other ethnic and religious groups will be able to return to their homes. Therefore, we will be able to restore the demographic wealth of the region, which was deteriorating.
By Ayse Hilal Sayan Koytak
Turkish Ambassador in Kuwait