Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected calls for his country to stop a controversial military operation in Syria, saying the fight would continue as part of Ankara’s broader crackdown on Kurdish militants.
“We will continue to do what is necessary for our nation’s tranquility. We will also do what is necessary in the northern part of Syria,” said Erdogan on Tuesday while addressing members of his ruling AK party in Ankara.
Turkey started operation Olive Branch in Syria in late January with an alleged aim of pushing back Kurdish militants, known as the YPG, from the city of Afrin and surrounding areas. The Turkish military finally captured Afrin’s central neighborhood after more than two months of fighting, which inflicted relatively heavy losses on its ranks.
Syria, as well as the United States and several European countries who support the Kurds, have criticized the operation. Turkey, however, has vowed to press ahead with attacks on positions of the YPG, which it sees as an arm of the outlawed militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) at home, until the entire territories west of the Euphrates River and Turkey’s border in the south are secured.
Erdogan said the Syria operation was part of a wider effort by Turkey to go after Kurdish militants in the south of the country as well as in Iraq’s mountainous Qandil region, where the PKK is based.
“We will not get out from [southeastern mountains of] Cudi, Gabar, Bestler-Dereler, Tendurek, and Qandil,” said Erdogan, claiming that nearly 5,000 militants had been neutralized in Turkey, Iraq and Syria since the Olive Branch started on January 20.
Rights groups and governments have criticized Turkey for its far-reaching crackdown against the Kurds, saying it has mostly targeted civilians instead of militants.
The crackdown has come amid a wider push by Turkey to arrest or dismiss more than 200,000 people on charges of involvement in a coup attempt two years ago.
Erdogan defended the crackdowns, which have come under a state of emergency in Turkey since July 2016, saying the emergency law, which was renewed for a seventh time last week, was necessary to protect tranquility in Turkey.
“… there is an environment of tranquility. They (opponents) are demanding the state of emergency to be lifted in such environment,” he said, adding, “Why? Because their game will be spoiled; for this reason, we will not let you subvert the order.”