ANAKRA (DNA): 950 square kilometers have been taken under control by Turkish troops in Afrin, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told the 6th provincial congress of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in the Black Sea province of Bolu.
The Turkish troops and Free Syrian Army (FSA) 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 Erdoğan told the 6th provincial congress of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in the Black Sea province of Bolu.
Erdoğan 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.
Erdoğan 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.
Erdoğan 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 is also defending NATO’s southern borders through Operation Olive Branch, but the alliance has failed to support it.
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 185 locations, including five town centers, 148 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.