Turkey was forced to act in Syria due to allies’ mistakes, terror hits

Columnist  | Adnan Altay Altinörs

Opinion, Oped

Turkey is under the threat of terrorism originating from Syria and targeting its borders.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: AP)

Turkey is currently fighting a number of terrorist organisations that present risk and threat to its national security. Our resolve to fight against these terrorist organisations is firm. It is with this understanding that we have given our full support to all international efforts to combat terrorism since day one.

Turkey is under the threat of terrorism originating from Syria and targeting its borders. Over the last two years, PYD/YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist organisation, has perpetrated more than 300 terrorist attacks targeting Turkey or Syrians within Syria. Over 100 of these cases targeted Turkey from the east of river Euphrates. There is credible evidence that Deash terrorists detained by PYD/YPG were released in exchange of infiltrating into Turkey or northwest Syria in order to conduct terrorist acts.

Evidence also shows PYD/YPG’s human rights violations such as recruiting child soldiers, intimidating dissidents, demographic engineering and forced conscription in areas under its control.

Our expectations and sensitivities regarding the PYD/YPG threat were repeatedly brought to the attention of all our allies, especially the United States. Our talks with the US on the establishment of a safe zone with a view to addressing our legitimate security concerns and sustaining the fight against Deash have remained inconclusive. Despite a preliminary understanding reached between the two countries early last August towards jointly establishing a safe zone, the PYD/YPG fortifications were not destroyed, even new elements were built. PYD/YPG did not withdraw from the planned safe zone. Their heavy weapons have not been taken. Instead, they continued to receive delivery of weapons. The joint Turkish-US land patrols and reconnaissance flights only served to verify non-compliance on the ground. The planned joint bases were never set up.

Through all contacts, Turkey emphasised that, if necessary, it would not hesitate to use its right to self-defence stemming from international law. Turkey was compelled to take action in order to correct the grave mistakes of allied and partner countries in Syria.

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Against this backdrop, the Turkish armed forces launched “Operation Peace Spring” on October 9, 2019. The objectives of Operation Peace Spring are clear: (i) To eliminate a long-standing terror threat against Turkey’s national security, (ii) to enforce Syria’s territorial integrity and unity, (iii) to liberate the local population from PYD/YPG’s oppression, and (iv) to lay the ground for the safe and voluntary return of displaced Syrians.

The operation is being carried out on the basis of international law, in accordance with our right to self-defence as outlined in Article 51 of the UN Charter and the relevant Security Council resolutions, and in full respect of Syria’s territorial integrity and unity.

Currently, the town centres of Ras al-Ayn and Tel Abyad, and adjacent settlements amounting to 1,220 sq km of territory were cleared out of terrorists. Having advanced deeper into the operation zone during the conduct of the offensive, the land units have assumed control of the M4 highway. The Turkish Red Crescent has arrived in Syria’s recently liberated district of Tal Abyad to deliver humanitarian aid to needy people.

In the meantime, the PYD/YPG showed its true colors by firing up to 700 mortars and rockets indiscriminately to the bordering Turkish provinces. Both our citizens and Syrians taking refuge on Turkish soil were affected. As of October 14, civilian casualties have mounted to almost 200, including 20 confirmed cases of death.

Turkey intends 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.

As was the case with the previous operations, “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch”, only terrorist elements and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles and equipment are being targeted. All necessary measures are taken to prevent any harm to civilians and any damage to civilian infrastructure. Channels of military deconfliction remain open and functional.

Turkey is taking utmost care to ensure that the operation is conducted in full compliance with international law. Allegations that the operation would lead to a new humanitarian crisis and mass migration flow are fabricated in order to discredit Turkey’s counter-terrorism efforts.

The operation also aims to support the international efforts to facilitate the safe and voluntary return of displaced Syrians to their homes of origin or other places of their choice in Syria, in line with international law and in coordination with relevant UN agencies. It is intended also to facilitate the return of Syrians who had been displaced due to acts of the PYD/YPG amounting to crimes against humanity, including ethnic cleansing.

Certain countries and circles, which explicitly or implicitly support the separatist agenda of the PYD/YPG terrorist organisation, are making baseless accusations against Turkey on this matter. This is a manifestation of their frustration for the disruption of their plans to divide Syria. Turkey has no plans whatsoever to modify the demographic structure in the operation area.

The allegation that Operation Peace Spring would damage efforts to reach a political solution in Syria is far from reality. Turkey is one of the few countries that exerted maximum and genuine efforts to establish the Constitutional Committee, in close cooperation with other Astana guarantors and the UN.

Turkey is an active member of the Global Coalition Against Daesh and is co-chairing the Counter Daesh Coalition Working Group on Foreign Terrorist Fighters. The most recent meeting was held in Ankara on May 7, 2019. Turkey fought against Deash in Syria more than any other country and paid the heaviest price. Turkey was the only country engaging in chest-to-chest combat against Deash terrorists in Syria.

The future of detained Deash terrorists is of paramount importance for Turkey. The issue of foreign terrorist fighters can be effectively dealt with only by collective action by the international community. The only sustainable solution is repatriation of all foreign terrorist fighters by their countries of origin. Turkey stands ready to work together with the countries of origin and international organisations for the rehabilitation of spouses and children who have not been involved in crimes committed by foreign terrorist fighters affiliated with Deash.